AS I LAY DYING
Copyright 1930, and renewed 1957, by William Faulkner
Jewel and I come up from the field, following the path in single file. Although
I am fifteen feet ahead of him, anyone watching us from the cottonhouse can see
Jewel's frayed and broken straw hat a full head above my own.
The path runs straight as a plumb-line, worn smooth by feet and baked
brick-hard by July, between the green rows of laid-by cotton, to the cottonhouse
in the center of the field, where it turns and circles the cottonhouse at four
soft right angles and goes on across the field again, worn so by feet in fading
The cottonhouse is of rough logs, from between which the chinking has long
fallen. Square, with a broken roof set at a single pitch, it leans in empty and
shimmering dilapidation in the sunlight, a single broad window in two opposite
walls giving onto the approaches of the path. When we reach it I turn and follow
the path which circles the house. Jewel, fifteen feet behind me, looking
straight ahead, steps in a single stride through the window. Still staring
straight ahead, his pale eyes like wood set into his wooden face, he crosses the
floor in four strides with the rigid gravity of a cigar store Indian dressed in
patched overalls and endued with life from the hips down, and steps in a single
stride through the opposite window and into the path again just as I come around
the corner. In single file and five feet apart and Jewel now in front, we go on
up the path toward the foot of the bluff.
Tull's wagon stands beside the spring, hitched to the rail, the reins
wrapped about the seat stanchion. In the wagon bed are two chairs. Jewel stops
at the spring and takes the gourd from the willow branch and drinks. I pass him
and mount the path, beginning to hear Cash's saw.
When I reach the top he has quit sawing. Standing in a litter of chips, he
is fitting two of the boards together. Between the shadow spaces they are yellow
as gold, like soft gold, bearing on their flanks in smooth undulations the marks
of the adze blade: a good carpenter, Cash is. He holds the two planks on the
trestle, fitted along the edges in a quarter of the finished box. He kneels and
squints along the edge of them, then he lowers them and takes up the adze. A
good carpenter. Addie Bundren could not want a better one, better box to lie in.
It will give her confidence and comfort. I go on to the house, followed by the
Chuck. Chuck. Chuck.
of the adze.
So I saved out the eggs and baked yesterday. The cakes turned out right well. We
depend a lot on our chickens. They are good layers, what few we have left after
the possums and such. Snakes too, in the summer. A snake will break up a henhouse
quicker than anything. So after they were going to cost so much more than
Mr Tull thought, and after I promised that the difference in the number of eggs
would make it up, I had to be more careful than ever because it was on my final
say-so we took them. We could have stocked cheaper chickens, but I gave my
promise as Miss Lawington said when she advised me to get a good breed, because
Mr Tull himself admits that a good breed of cows or hogs pays in the long run.
So when we lost so many of them we couldn't afford to use the eggs ourselves,
because I could not have had Mr Tull chide me when it was on my say-so we took
them. So when Miss Lawington told me about the cakes I thought that I could bake
them and earn enough, at one time to increase the net value of the flock the
equivalent of two head. And that by saving the eggs out one at a time, even the
eggs wouldn't be costing anything. And that week they laid so well that I not
only saved out enough eggs above what we had engaged to sell, to bake the cakes
with, I had saved enough so that the flour and the sugar and the stove wood
would not be costing anything. So I baked yesterday, more careful than ever I
baked in my life, and the cakes turned out right well. But when we got to town
this morning Miss Lawington told me the lady had changed her mind and was not
going to have the party after all.
"She ought to taken those cakes anyway," Kate says.
"Well," I say, "I reckon she never had no use for them now."
"She ought to taken them," Kate says. "But those rich town ladies can
change their minds. Poor folks cant."
Riches is nothing in the face of the Lord, for He can see into the heart.
"Maybe I can sell them at the bazaar Saturday," I say. They turned out real
"You cant get two dollars a piece for them," Kate says.
"Well, it isn't like they cost me anything," I say. I saved them out and
swapped a dozen of them for the sugar and flour. It isn't like the cakes cost me
anything, as Mr Tull himself realises that the eggs I saved were over and beyond
what we had engaged to sell, so it was like we had found the eggs or they had
been given to us.
"She ought to taken those cakes when she same as gave you her word," Kate
says. The Lord can see into the heart. If it is His will that some folks has
different ideas of honesty from other folks, it is not my place to question His
"I reckon she never had any use for them," I say. They turned out real
The quilt is drawn up to her chin, hot as it is, with only her two hands
and her face outside. She is propped on the pillow, with her head raised so she
can see out the window, and we can hear him every time he takes up the adze or
the saw. If we were deaf we could almost watch her face and hear him, see him.
Her face is wasted away so that the bones draw just under the skin in white
lines. Her eyes are like two candles when you watch them gutter down into the
sockets of iron candle-sticks. But the eternal and the everlasting salvation and
grace is not upon her.
"They turned out real nice," I say. "But not like the cakes Addie used to
bake." You can see that girl's washing and ironing in the pillow-slip, if ironed
it ever was. Maybe it will reveal her blindness to her, laying there at the
mercy and the ministration of four men and a torn-boy girl. "There's not a woman
in this section could ever bake with Addie Bundren," I say. "First thing we know
she'll be up and baking again, and then we wont have any sale for ours at all."
Under the quilt she makes no more of a hump than a rail would, and the only way
you can tell she is breathing is by the sound of the mattress shucks. Even the
hair, at her cheek does not move, even with that girl standing right over her,
fanning her with the fan. While we watch she swaps the fan to the other hand
without stopping it.
"Is she sleeping?" Kate whispers.
"She's just watching Cash yonder," the girl says. We can hear the saw in
the board. It sounds like snoring. Eula turns on the trunk and looks out the
window. Her necklace looks real nice with her red hat. You wouldn't think it
only cost twenty-five cents.
"She ought to taken those cakes," Kate says.
I could have used the money real well. But it's not like they cost me
anything except the baking. I can tell him that anybody is likely to make a
miscue, but it's not all of them that can get out of it without loss, I can tell
him. It's not everybody can eat their mistakes, I can tell him.
Someone comes through the hall. It is Darl. He does not look in as he
passes the door. Eula watches him as he goes on and passes from sight again
toward the back. Her hand rises and touches her beads lightly, and then her
hair. When she finds me watching her, her eyes go blank.
Pa and Vernon are sitting on the back porch. Pa is tilting snuff from the lid of
his snuff-box into his lower lip, holding the lip outdrawn between thumb and
finger. They look around as I cross the porch and dip the gourd into the water
bucket and drink.
"Where's Jewel?" pa says. When I was a boy I first learned how much better
water tastes when it has set a while in a cedar bucket. Warmish-cool, with a
faint taste like the hot July wind in cedar trees smells. It has to set at least
six hours, and be drunk from a gourd. Water should never be drunk from metal.
And at night it is better still. I used to lie on the pallet in the hall,
waiting until I could hear them all asleep, so I could get up and go back to the
bucket. It would be black, the shelf black, the still surface of the water a
round orifice in nothingness, where before I stirred it awake with the dipper I
could see maybe a star or two in the bucket, and maybe in the dipper a star or
two before I drank. After that I was bigger, older. Then I would wait until they
all went to sleep so I could lie with my shirt-tail up, hearing them asleep,
feeling myself without touching myself, feeling the cool silence blowing upon my
parts and wondering if Cash was yonder in the darkness doing it too, had been
doing it perhaps for the last two years before I could have wanted to or could
Pa's feet are badly splayed, his toes cramped and bent and warped, with no
toenail at all on his little toes, from working so hard in the wet in homemade
shoes when he was a boy. Beside his chair his brogans sit. They look as though
they had been hacked with a blunt axe out of pig-iron. Vernon has been to town.
I have never seen him go to town in overalls. His wife, they say. She taught
school too, once.
I fling the dipper dregs to the ground and wipe my mouth on my sleeve. It
is going to rain before morning. Maybe before dark. "Down to the barn," I say.
"Harnessing the team."
Down there fooling with that horse. He will go on through the barn, into
the pasture. The horse will not be in sight: he is up there among the pine
seedlings, in the cool. Jewel whistles, once and shrill. The horse snorts, then
Jewel sees him, glinting for a gaudy instant among the blue shadows. Jewel
whistles again; the horse comes dropping down the slope, stiff-legged, his ears
cocking and flicking, his mis-matched eyes rolling, and fetches up twenty feet
away, broadside on, watching Jewel over his shoulder in an attitude kittenish
"Come here, sir," Jewel says. He moves. Moving that quick his coat,
bunching, tongues swirling like so many flames. With tossing mane and tail and
rolling eye the horse makes another short curvetting rush and stops again, feet
bunched, watching Jewel. Jewel walks steadily toward him, his hands at his
sides. Save for Jewel's legs they are like two figures carved for a tableau
savage in the sun.
When Jewel can almost touch him, the horse stands on his hind legs and
slashes down at Jewel. Then Jewel is enclosed by a glittering maze of hooves as
by an illusion of wings; among them, beneath the up-reared chest, he moves with
the flashing limberness of a snake. For an instant before the jerk comes onto
his arms he sees his whole body earth-free, horizontal, whipping snake-umber,
until he finds the horse's nostrils and touches earth again. Then they are
rigid, motionless, terrific, the horse back-thrust on stiffened, quivering legs,
with lowered head; Jewel with dug heels, shutting off the horse's wind with one
hand, with the other patting the horse's neck in short strokes myriad and
caressing, cursing the horse with obscene ferocity.
They stand in rigid terrific hiatus, the horse trembling and groaning.
Then Jewel is on the horse's back. He flows upward in a stooping swirl like the
lash of a whip, his body in midair shaped to the horse. For another moment the
horse stands spraddled, with lowered head, before it bursts into motion. They
descend the hill in a series of spine-jolting jumps, Jewel high, leech-like on
the withers, to the fence where the horse bunches to a scuttering halt again.
"Well," Jewel says, "you can quit now, if you got a-plenty."
Inside the barn Jewel slides running to the ground before the horse stops.
The horse enters the stall, Jewel following. Without looking back the horse
kicks at him, slamming a single hoof into the wall with a pistol-like report.
Jewel kicks him in the stomach; the horse arches his neck back, crop-toothed;
Jewel strikes him across the face with his fist and slides on to the trough and
mounts upon it. Clinging to the hay-rack he lowers his head and peers out across
the stall tops and through the doorway. The path is empty; from here he cannot
even hear Cash sawing. He reaches up and drags down hay in hurried armsful and
crams it into the rack.
"Eat," he says. "Get the goddamn stuff out of sight while you got a
chance, you pussel-gutted bastard. You sweet son of a bitch," he says.
It's because he stays out there, right under the window, hammering and sawing on
that goddamn box. Where she's got to see him. Where every breath she draws is
full of his knocking and sawing where she can see him saying See. See what a
good one I am making for you. I told him to go somewhere else. I said Good God
do you want to see her in it. It's like when he was a little boy and she says if
she had some fertilizer she would try to raise some flowers and he taken the
bread pan and brought it back from the barn full of dung.
And now them others sitting there, like buzzards. Waiting, fanning
themselves. Because I said If you wouldn't keep on sawing and nailing at it
until a man cant sleep even and her hands laying on the quilt like two of them
roots dug up and tried to wash and you couldn't get them clean. I can see the
fan and Dewey Dell's arm. I said if you'd just let her alone. Sawing and
knocking, and keeping the air always moving so fast on her face that when you're
tired you cant breathe it, and that goddamn adze going One lick less. One lick
less. One lick less until everybody that passes in the road will have to stop
and see it and say what a fine carpenter he is. If it had just been me when Cash
fell off of that church and if it had just been me when pa laid sick with that
load of wood fell on him, it would not be happening with every bastard in the
county coming in to stare at her because if there is a God what the hell is He
for. It would just be me and her on a high hill and me rolling the rocks down
the hill faces and teeth and all by God until she was quiet and not that goddamn
adze going One lick less. One lick less and we could be quiet.
We watch him come around the corner and mount the steps. He does not look at us.
"You ready?" he says.
"If you're hitched up," I say. I say "Wait." He stops, looking at pa.
Vernon spits, without moving. He spits With decorous and deliberate precision
into the pocked dust below the porch. Pa rubs his hands slowly on his knees. He
is gazing out beyond the crest of the bluff, out across the land. Jewel watches
him a moment, then he goes on to the pail and drinks again.
"I mislike undecision as much as ere a man," Pa says.
"It means three dollars," I say. The shirt across pa's hump is faded
lighter than the rest of it. There is no sweat stain on his shirt. I have never
seen a sweat stain on his shirt. He was sick once from working in the sun when
he was twenty-two years old, and he tells people that if he ever sweats, he will
die. I suppose he believes it.
"But if she dont last until you get back," he says. "She will be
Vernon spits into the dust. But it will rain before morning.
"She's counted on it," pa says. "She'll want to start right away. I know
her. I promised her I'd keep the team here and ready, and she's counting on it."
"We'll need that three dollars then, sure," I say. He gazes out over the
land, rubbing his hands on his knees. Since he lost his teeth his mouth
collapses in slow repetition when he dips. The stubble gives his lower face that
appearance that old dogs have. "You'd better make up your mind soon, so we can
get there and get a load on before dark," I say.
"Ma aint that sick," Jewel says. "Shut up, Darl."
"That's right," Vernon says. "She seems more like herself today than she
has in a week. Time you and Jewel get back, she'll be setting up."
"You ought to know," Jewel says. "You been here often enough looking at
her. You or your folks." Vernon looks at him. Jewel's eyes look like pale wood
in his high-blooded face. He is a head taller than any of the rest of us, always
was. I told them that's why ma always whipped him and petted him more. Because
he was peakling around the house more. That's why she named him Jewel I told
"Shut up, Jewel," pa says, but as though he is not listening much. He
gazes out across the land, rubbing his knees.
"You could borrow the loan of Vernon's team and we could catch up with
you," I say. "If she didn't wait for us."
"Ah, shut your goddamn mouth," Jewel says.
"She'll want to go in ourn," pa says. He rubs his knees. "Dont ere a man
mislike it more."
"It's laying there, watching Cash whittle on that damn . . ." Jewel says.
He says it harshly, savagely, but he does not say the word. Like a little boy in
the dark to flail his courage and suddenly aghast into silence by his own noise.
"She wanted that like she wants to go in our own wagon," pa says. "She'll
rest easier for knowing it's a good one, and private. She was ever a private
woman. You know it well."
"Then let it be private," Jewel says. "But how the hell can you expect it
to be--" he looks at the back o£ pa's head, his eyes like pale wooden eyes.
"Sho," Vernon says, "she'll hold on till it's finished. She'll hold on
till everything's ready, till her own good time. And with the roads like they
are now, it wont take you no time to get her to town."
"It's fixing up to rain," pa says. "I am a luckless man. I have ever
been." He rubs his hands on his knees. "It's that durn doctor, liable to come at
any time. I couldn't get word to him till so late. If he was to come tomorrow
and tell her the time was nigh, she wouldn't wait, I know her. Wagon or no
wagon, she wouldn't wait. Then she'd be upset, and I wouldn't upset her for the
living world. With that family burying-ground in Jefferson and them of her blood
waiting for her there, she'll be impatient. I promised my word me and the boys
would get her there quick as mules could walk it, so she could rest quiet." He
rubs his hands on his knees. "No man ever misliked it more."
"If everybody wasn't burning hell to get her there," Jewel says in that
harsh, savage voice. "With Cash all day long right under the window, hammering
and sawing at that--"
"It was her wish," pa says. "You got no affection nor gentleness for her.
You never had. We would be beholden to no man," he says, "me and her. We have
never yet been, and she will rest quieter for knowing it and that it was her own
blood sawed out the boards and drove the nails. She was ever one to clean up
"It means three dollars," I say. "Do you want us to go, or not?" Pa rubs
his knees. "We'll be back by tomorrow sundown."
"Well ..." pa says. He looks out over the land, awry-haired, mouthing the
snuff slowly against, his gums.
"Come on," Jewel says. He goes down the steps. Vernon spits neatly into
"By sundown, now," pa says. "I would not keep her waiting."
Jewel glances back, then he goes on around the house. I enter the hall,
hearing the voices before I reach the door. Tilting a little down the hill, as
our house does, a breeze draws through the hall all the time, upslanting. A
feather dropped near the front door will rise and brush along the ceiling,
slanting backward, until it reaches the down-turning current at the back door:
so with voices. As you enter the hall, they sound as though they were speaking
out of the air about your head.
It was the sweetest thing I ever saw. It was like he knew he would never see her
again, that Anse Bundren was driving him from his mother's death bed, never to
see her in this world again. I always said Darl was different from those others.
I always said he was the only one of them that had his mother's nature, had any
natural affection. Not that Jewel, the one she labored so to bear and coddled
and petted so and him flinging into tantrums or sulking spells, inventing
devilment to devil her until I would have trailed him time and time. Not him to
come and tell her goodbye. Not him to miss a chance to make that extra three
dollars at the price of his mother's goodbye kiss. A Bundren through and
through, loving nobody, caring for nothing except how to get something with the
least amount of work. Mr Tull says Darl asked them to wait. He said Darl almost
begged them on his knees not to force him to leave her in her condition. But
nothing would do but Anse and Jewel must make that three dollars. Nobody that
knows Anse could have expected different, but to think of that boy, that Jewel,
selling all those years of self-denial and down-right partiality— they couldn't
fool me: Mr Tull says Mrs Bundren liked Jewel the least of all, but I knew
better. I knew she was partial to him, to the same quality in him that let her
put up with Anse Bundren when Mr Tull said she ought to poisoned him~for three
dollars, denying his dying mother the goodbye kiss.
Why, for the last three weeks I have been coming over every time I could,
coming sometimes when I shouldn't have, neglecting my own family and duties so
that somebody would be with her in her last moments and she would not have to
face the Great Unknown without one familiar face to give her courage. Not that I
deserve credit for it: I will expect the same for myself. But thank God it will
be the faces of my loved kin, my blood and flesh, for in my husband and children
I have been more blessed than most, trials though they have been at times.
She lived, a lonely woman, lonely with her pride, trying to make folks
believe different, hiding the fact that they just suffered her, because she was
not cold in the coffin before they were carting her forty miles away to bury
her, flouting the will of God to do it. Refusing to let her lie in the same
earth with those Bundrens.
"But she wanted to go," Mr Tull said. 'It was her own wish to lie among
her own people."
"Then why didn't she go alive?" I said. "Not one of them would have
stopped her, with even that little one almost old enough now to be selfish and
stone-hearted like the rest of them."
"It was her own wish," Mr Tull said. "I heard Anse say it was."
"And you would believe Anse, of course," I said. "A man like you would.
Dont tell me."
"I'd believe him about something he couldn't expect to make anything off
of me by not telling," Mr Tull said.
"Dont tell me," I said. "A woman's place is with her husband and children,
alive or dead. Would you expect me to want to go back to Alabama and leave you
and the girls when my time comes, that I left of my own will to cast my lot with
yours for better and worse, until death and after?"
"Well, folks are different," he said.
I should hope so. I have tried to live right in the sight of God and man,
for the honor and comfort of my Christian husband and the love and respect of my
Christian children. So that when I lay me down in the consciousness of my duty
and reward I will be surrounded by loving faces, carrying the farewell kiss of
each of my loved ones into my reward. Not like Addie Bundren dying alone, hiding
her pride and her broken heart. Glad to go. Lying there with her head propped up
so she could watch Cash building the coffin, having to watch him so he would not
skimp on it, like as not, with those men not worrying about anything except if
there was time to earn another three dollars before the rain come and the river
got too high to get across it. Like as not, if they hadn't decided to make that
last load, they would have loaded her into the wagon on a quilt and crossed the
river first and then stopped and give her time to die what Christian death they
would let her.
Except Darl. It was the sweetest thing I ever saw. Sometimes I lose faith
in human nature for a time; I am assailed by doubt. But always the Lord restores
my faith and reveals to me His bounteous love for His creatures. Not Jewel, the
one she had always cherished, not him. He was after that three extra dollars. It
was Darl, the one that folks say is queer, lazy, pottering about the place no
better than Anse, with Cash a good carpenter and always more building than he
can get around to, and Jewel always doing something that made him some money or
got him talked about, and that near-naked girl always standing over Addie with a
fan so that every time a body tried to talk to her and cheer her up, would
answer for her right quick, like she was trying to keep anybody from coming near
her at all.
It was Darl. He come to the door and stood there, looking at his dying
mother. He just looked at her, and I felt the bounteous love of the Lord again
and His mercy. I saw that with Jewel she had just been pretending, but that it
was between her and Darl that the understanding and the true love was. He just
looked at her, not even coming in where she could see him and get upset, knowing
that Anse was driving him away and he would never see her again. He said
nothing, just looking at her.
"What you want, Darl?" Dewey Dell said, not stopping the fan, speaking up
quick, keeping even him from her. He didn't answer. He just stood and looked at
his dying mother, his heart too full for words.
The first time me and Lafe picked on down the row. Pa dassent sweat because he
will catch his death from the sickness so everybody that comes to help us. And
Jewel dont care about anything he is not kin to us in caring, not care-kin. And
Cash like sawing the long hot sad yellow days up into planks and nailing them to
something. And pa thinks because neighbors will always treat one another that
way because he has always been too busy letting neighbors do for him to find
out. And I did not think that Darl would, that sits at the supper table with his
eyes gone further than the food and the lamp, full of the land dug out of his
skull and the holes filled with distance beyond the land.
We picked on down the row, the woods getting closer and closer and the
secret shade, picking on into the secret shade with my sack and Lafe's sack.
Because I said will I or wont I when the sack was half full because I said if
the sack is full when we get to the woods it wont be me. I said if it dont mean
for me to do it the sack will not be full and I will turn up the next row but if
the sack is full, I cannot help it. It will be that I had to do it all the time
and I cannot help it. And we picked on toward the secret shade and our eyes
would drown together touching on his hands and my hands and I didn't say
anything. I said "What are you doing?" and he said "I am picking into your
sack." And so it was full when we came to the end of the row and I could not
And so it was because I could not help it. It was then, and then I saw
Darl and he knew. He said he knew without the words like he told me that ma is
going to die without words, and I knew he knew because if he had said he knew
with the words I would not have believed that he had been there and saw us. But
he said he did know and I said "Are you going to tell pa are you going to kill
him?" without the words I said it and he said "Why?" without the words. And
that's why I can talk to him with knowing with hating because he knows.
He stands in the door, looking at her.
"What you want, Darl?" I say.
"She is going to die," he says. And old turkey-buzzard Tull coming to
watch her die but I can fool them.
"When is she going to die?" I say.
"Before we get back," he says.
"Then why are you taking Jewel?" I say.
"I want him to help me load," he says.
Anse keeps on rubbing his knees. His overalls are faded; on one knee a serge
patch cut out of a pair of Sunday pants, wore iron-slick. "No man mislikes it
more than me," he says.
"A fellow's got to guess ahead now and then," I say. "But, come long and
short, it wont be no harm done neither way."
"She'll want to get started right off," he says. "It's far enough to
Jefferson at best."
"But the roads is good now," I say. It's fixing to rain tonight, too. His
folks buries at New Hope, too, not three miles away. But it's just like him to
marry a woman born a day's hard ride away and have her die on him.
He looks out over the land, rubbing his knees. "No man so mislikes it," he
"They'll get back in plenty of time," I say. "I wouldn't worry none."
"It means three dollars," he says.
"Might be it wont be no need for them to rush back, noways," I say. "I
"She's a-going," he says. "Her mind is set on it."
It's a hard life on women, for a fact. Some women. I mind my mammy lived
to be seventy and more. Worked every day, rain or shine; never a sick day since
her last chap was born until one day she kind of looked around her and then she
went and taken that lace-trimmed night gown she had had forty-five years and
never wore out of the chest and put it on and laid down on the bed and pulled
the covers up and shut her eyes. "You all will have to look out for pa the best
you can," she said. "I'm tired."
Anse rubs his hands on his knees. "The Lord giveth," he says. We can hear
Cash a-hammering and sawing beyond the corner.
It's true. Never a truer breath was ever breathed. "The Lord giveth," I
That boy comes up the hill. He is carrying a fish nigh long as he is. He
slings it to the ground and grunts "Hah" and spits over his shoulder like a man.
Durn nigh long as he is.
"What's that?" I say. "A hog? Where'd you get it?"
"Down to the bridge," he says. He turns it over, the under side caked over
with dust where it is wet, the eye coated over, humped under the dirt.
"Are you aiming to leave it laying there?" Anse says.
"I aim to show it to ma," Vardaman says. He looks toward the door. We can
hear the talking, coming out on the draft. Cash, too, knocking and hammering at
the boards. "There's company in there," he says.
"Just my folks," I say. "They'd enjoy to see it too."
He says nothing, watching the door. Then he looks down at the fish laying
in the dust. He turns it over with his foot and prods at the eye-bump with his
toe, gouging at it. Anse is looking out over the land. Vardaman looks at Anse's
face, then at the door. He turns, going toward the corner of the house, when
Anse calls him without looking around.
"You clean that fish," Anse says. Vardaman stops. "Why cant Dewey Dell
clean it?" he says.
"You clean that fish," Anse says.
"Aw, pa," Vardaman says.
"You clean it," Anse says. He dont look around. Vardaman comes back and
picks up the fish. It slides out of his hands, smearing wet dirt onto him, and
flops down, dirtying itself again, gapmouthed, goggle-eyed, hiding into the dust
like it was ashamed of being dead, like it was in a hurry to get back hid
again.' Vardaman cusses it. He cusses it like a grown man, standing a-straddle
of it. Anse dont look around. Vardaman picks it up again. He goes on around the
house, toting it in both arms like a armful of wood, it overlapping him on both
ends, head and tail. Durn nigh big as he is.
Anse's wrists dangle out of his sleeves: I never see him with a shirt on
that looked like it was his in all my life. They all looked like Jewel might
have give him his old ones. Not Jewel, though. He's long-armed, even if he is
spindling. Except for the lack of sweat. You could tell they aint been nobody
else's but Anse's that way without no mistake. His eyes look like pieces of
burnt-out cinder fixed in his face, looking out over the land.
When the shadow touches the steps he says "It's five oclock."
Just as I get up Cora comes to the door and says it's time to get on. Anse
reaches for his shoes. "Now, Mr Bundren," Cora says, "dont you get up now." He
puts his shoes on, stomping into them, like he does everything, like he is
hoping all the time he really cant do it and can quit trying to. When we go up
the hall we can hear them clumping on the floor like they was iron shoes. He
comes toward the door where she is, blinking his eyes, kind of looking ahead of
hisself before he sees, like he is hoping to find her setting up, in a chair
maybe or maybe sweeping, and looks into the door in that surprised way like he
looks in and finds her still in bed every time and Dewey Dell still a-fanning
her with the fan. He stands there, like he dont aim to move again nor nothing
"Well, I reckon we better get on," Cora says. "I got to feed the
chickens." It's fixing to rain, too. Clouds like that dont lie, and the cotton
making every day the Lord sends. That'll be something else for him. Cash is
still trimming at the boards. "If there's ere a thing we can do," Cora says.
"Anse'll let us know," I say.
Anse dont look at us. He looks around, blinking, in that surprised way,
like he had wore hisself down being surprised and was even surprised at that. If
Cash just works that careful on my barn.
"I told Anse it likely wont be no need," I say. "I so hope it."
"Her mind is set on it," he says. "I reckon she's bound to go."
"It comes to all of us," Cora says. "Let the Lord comfort you."
"About that corn," I say. I tell him again I will help him out if he gets
into a tight, with her sick and all. Like most folks around here, I done holp
him so much already I cant quit now.
"I aimed to get to it today," he says. "Seems like I cant get my mind on
"Maybe she'll hold out till you are laid-by," I say.
"If God wills it," he says.
"Let Him comfort you," Cora says.
If Cash just works that careful on my barn. He looks up when we pass.
"Dont reckon I'll get to you this week," he says.
"Taint no rush," I say. "Whenever you get around to it."
We get into the wagon. Cora sets the cake box on her lap. It's fixing to
"I dont know what he'll do," Cora says. "I just dont know."
"Poor Anse," I say. "She kept him at work for thirty-odd years. I reckon
she is tired."
"And I reckon she'll be behind him for thirty years more," Kate says. "Or
if it aint her, he'll get another one before cotton-picking."
"I reckon Cash and Darl can get married now," Eula says.
"That poor boy," Cora says. "The poor little tyke."
"What about Jewel?" Kate says.
"He can, too," Eula says.
"Hmph," Kate says. "I reckon he will. I reckon so. I reckon there's more
gals than one around here that dont want to see Jewel tied down. Well, they
needn't to worry."
"Why, Kate!" Cora says. The wagon begins to rattle. "The poor little
tyke," Cora says.
It's fixing to rain this night. Yes, sir. A rattling wagon is mighty dry
weather, for a Birdsell. But that'll be cured. It will for a fact.
"She ought to taken them cakes after she said she would," Kate says.
Durn that road. And it fixing to rain, too. I can stand here and same as see it
with second-sight, a-shutting down behind them like a wall, shutting down
betwixt them and my given promise. I do the best I can, much as I can get my
mind on anything, but durn them boys.
A-laying there, right tip to my door, where every bad luck that comes and
goes is bound to find it. I told Addie it want any luck living on a road when it
come by here, and she said, for the world like a woman, "Get up and move, then."
But I told her it want no luck in it, because the Lord put roads for travelling:
why He laid them down flat on the earth. When He aims for something to be always
a-moving, He makes it longways, like a road or a horse or a wagon, but when He
aims for something to stay put, He makes it up-and-down ways, like a tree or a
man. And so he never aimed for folks to live on a road, because which gets there
first, I says, the road or the house? Did you ever know Him to set a road down
by a house? I says. No you never, I says, because it's always men cant rest till
they gets the house set where everybody that passes in a wagon can spit in the
doorway, keeping the folks restless and wanting to get up and go somewheres else
when He aimed for them to stay put like a tree or a stand of corn. Because if
He'd a aimed for man to be always a-moving and going somewheres else, wouldn't
He a put him longways on his belly, like a snake? It stands to reason He would.
Putting it where every bad luck prowling can find it and come straight to
my door, charging me taxes on top of it. Making me pay for Cash having to get
them carpenter notions when if it hadn't been no road come there, he wouldn't a
got them; falling off of churches and lifting no hand in six months and me and
Addie slaving and a-slaving, when there's plenty of sawing; on this place he
could do if he's got to saw.
And Darl too. Talking me out of him, durn them. It aint that I am afraid
of work; I always is fed me and mine and kept a roof above us: it's that they
would short-hand me just because he tends to his own business, just because he's
got his eyes full of the land all the time. I says to them, he was all right at
first, with his eyes full of the land, because the land laid up-and-down ways
then; it wasn't till that ere road come and switched the land around longways
and his eyes still full of the land, that they begun to threaten me out of him,
trying to short-hand me with the law.
Making me pay for it. She was well and hale as ere a woman ever were,
except for that road. Just laying down, resting herself in her own bed, asking
naught of none. "Are you sick, Addie?" I said.
"I am not sick," she said.
"You lay you down and rest you," I said. "I knowed you are not sick.
You're just tired. You lay you down and rest."
"I am not sick," she said. "I will get up."
"Lay still and rest," I said. 'You are just tired. You can get up
tomorrow." And she was laying there, well and hale as ere a woman ever were,
except for that road.
"I never sent for you," I said. "I take you to witness I never sent for
"I know you didn't," Peabody said. "I bound that. Where is she?"
"She's a-laying down," I said. "She's just a little tired, but she'll--"
"Get outen here, Anse," he said. "Go set on the porch a while."
And now I got to pay for it, me without a tooth in my head, hoping to get
ahead enough so I could get my mouth fixed where I could eat God's own victuals
as a man should, and her hale and well as ere a woman in the land until that
day. Got to pay for being put to the need of that three dollars. Got to pay for
the way for them boys to have to go away to earn it. And now I can see same as
second sight the rain shutting down betwixt us, a-coming up that road like a
durn man, like it want ere a other house to rain on in all the living land.
I have heard men cuss their luck, and right, for they were sinful men. But
I do not say it's a curse on me, because I have done no wrong to be cussed by. I
am not religious, I reckon. But peace is my heart: I know it is. I have done
things but neither better nor worse than them that pretend otherlike, and I know
that Old Marster will care for me as for ere a sparrow that falls. But it seems
hard that a man in his need could be so flouted by a road.
Vardaman comes around the house, bloody as a hog to his knees, and that
ere fish chopped up with the axe like as not, or maybe throwed away for him to
lie about the dogs et it. Well, I reckon I aint no call to expect no more of him
than of his man-growed brothers. He comes along, watching the house, quiet, and
sits on the steps. "Whew," he says, "I'm pure tired."
"Go wash them hands," I say. But couldn't no woman strove harder than
Addie to make them right, man and boy: I'll say that for her.
"It was full of blood and guts as a hog," he says. But I just cant seem to
get no heart into anything, with this here weather sapping me, too. "Pa," he
says, "is ma sick some more?"
"Go wash them hands," I say. But I just cant seem to get no heart into it.
He has been to town this week: the back of his neck is trimmed close, with a
white line between hair and sunburn like a joint of white bone. He has not once
"Jewel," I say. Back running, tunnelled between the two sets of bobbing
mule ears, the road vanishes beneath the wagon as though it were a ribbon and
the front axle were a spool. "Do you know she is going to die, Jewel?"
It takes two people to make you, and one people to die. That's how the
world is going to end.
I said to Dewey Dell: "You want her to die so you can get to town: is that
it?" She wouldn't say what we both knew. "The reason you will not say it is,
when you say it, even to yourself, you will know it is true: is that it? But you
know it is true now. I can almost tell you the day when you knew it is true. Why
wont you say it, even to yourself?" She will not say it. She just keeps on
saying Are you going to tell pa? Are you going to kill him? "You cannot believe
it is true because you cannot believe that Dewey Dell, Dewey Dell Bundren, could
have such bad luck: is that it?"
The sun, an hour above the horizon, is poised like a bloody egg upon a
crest of thunderheads; the light has turned copper: in the eye portentous, in
the nose sulphurous, smelling of lightning. When Peabody comes, they will have
to use the rope. He has pussel-gutted himself eating cold greens. With the rope
they will haul him up the path, balloon-like up the sulphurous air.
"Jewel," I say, "do you know that Addie Bundren is going to die? Addie
Bundren is going to die?"
When Anse finally sent for me of his own accord, I said "He has wore her out at
last." And I said a damn good thing, and at first I would not go because there
might be something I could do and I would have to haul her back, by God. I
thought maybe they have the same sort of fool ethics in heaven they have in the
Medical College and that it was maybe Vernon lull sending for me again, getting
me there in the nick of time, as Vernom always does things, getting the most for
Anse's money like he does for his own. But when it got far enough into the day
for me to read weather sign I knew it couldn't have been anybody but Anse that
sent. I knew that nobody but a luckless man could ever need a doctor in the face
of a cyclone. And I knew that if it had finally occurred to Anse himself that he
needed one, it was already too late.
When I reach the spring and get down and hitch the team, the sun has gone
down behind a bank of black cloud like a topheavy mountain range, like a load of
cinders dumped over there, and there is no wind. I could hear Cash sawing for a
mile before I got there. Anse is standing at the top of the bluff above the
"Where's the horse?" I say.
"Jewel's taken and gone," he says. "Cant nobody else ketch hit. You'll
have to walk up, I reckon."
"Me, walk up, weighing two hundred and twenty-five pounds?" I say. "Walk
up that durn wall?" He stands there beside a tree. Too bad the Lord made the
mistake of giving trees roots and giving the Anse Bundrens He makes feet and
legs. If He'd just swapped them, there wouldn't ever be a worry about this
country being deforested someday. Or any other country. "What do you aim for me
to do?" I say. "Stay here and get blowed clean out .of the county when that
cloud breaks?" Even with the horse it would take me fifteen minutes to ride up
across the pasture to the top of the ridge and reach the house. The path looks
like a crooked limb blown against the bluff. Anse has not been in town in twelve
years. And how his mother ever got up there to bear him, he being his mother's
"Vardaman's gittin the rope," he says.
After a while Vardaman appears with the plowline. He gives the end of it
to Anse and comes down the path, uncoiling it.
"You hold it tight," I say. "I done already wrote this visit onto my
books, so I'm going to charge you just the same, whether I get there or not."
"I got hit," Anse says. "You kin come on up."
I'll be damned if I can see why I dont quit. A man seventy years old,
weighing two hundred and odd pounds, being hauled up and down a damn mountain on
a rope. I reckon it's because I must reach the fifty thousand dollar mark of
dead accounts on my books before I can quit. "What the hell does your wife
mean," I say, "taking sick on top of a durn mountain?"
"I'm right sorry," he says. He let the rope go, just dropped it, and he
has turned toward the house. There is a little daylight up here still, of the
color of sulphur matches. The boards look like strips of sulphur. Cash does not
look back. Vernon Tull says he brings each , board up to the window for her to
see it and say it is all right. The boy overtakes us. Anse looks back at him.
"Where's the rope?" he says.
"It's where you left it," I say. "But never you mind that rope. I got to
get back down that bluff. I dont aim for that storm to catch me up here. I'd
blow too durn far once I got started."
The girl is standing by the bed, fanning her. When we enter she turns her
head and looks at us. She has been dead these ten days. I suppose it's having
been a part of Anse for so long that she cannot even make that change, if change
it be. I can remember how when I was young I believed death to be a phenomenon
of the body; now I know it to be merely a function of the mind and that of the
minds of the ones who suffer the bereavement. The nihilists say it is the end;
the fundamentalists, the beginning; when in reality it is no more than a single
tenant or family moving out of a tenement or a town.
She looks at us. Only her eyes seem to move. It's like they touch us, not
with sight or sense, but like the stream from a hose touches you, the stream at
the instant of impact as dissociated from the nozzle as though it had never been
there. She does not look at Anse at all. She looks at me, then at the boy.
Beneath the quilt she is no more than a bundle of rotten sticks.
"Well, Miss Addie," I say. The girl does not stop the fan. "How are you,
sister?" I say. Her head lies gaunt on the pillow, looking at the boy. "You
picked out a fine time to get me out here and bring up a storm." Then I send
Anse and the boy out. She watches the boy as he leaves the room. She has not
moved save her eyes.
He and Anse are on the porch when I come out, the boy sitting on the
steps, Anse standing by a post, not even leaning against it, his arms dangling,
the hair pushed and matted up on his head like a dipped rooster. He turns his
head, blinking at me.
"Why didn't you send for me sooner?" I say.
"Hit was jest one thing and then another," he says. 'That ere corn me and the
boys was aimin to git up with, and Dewey Dell a-takin good keer of her, and
folks comin in, a-offerin to help and sich, till I jest thought . . ."
"Damn the money," I say. "Did you ever hear of me worrying a fellow before
he was ready to pay?"
"Hit aint begrudgin the money," he says. "I jest kept a-thinkin . . .
She's goin, is she?" The durn little tyke is sitting on the top step, looking
smaller than ever in the sulphur-colored light. That's the one trouble with this
country: everything, weather, all, hangs on too long. Like our rivers, our land:
opaque, slow, violent; shaping and creating the Me of man in its implacable and
brooding image. "I knowed hit," Anse says. "All the while I made sho. Her mind
is sot on hit."
"And a damn good thing, too," I say. "With a trifling--" He sits on the
top step, small, motionless in faded overalls. When I came out he looked up at
me, then at Anse. But now he has stopped looking at us. He just sits there.
"Have you told her yit?" Anse says.
"What for?" I say. "What the devil for?"
"Shell know hit. I knowed that when she see you she would know hit, same
as writing. You wouldn't need to tell her. Her mind--"
Behind us the girl says, "Paw." I look at her, at her face.
"You better go quick," I say.
When we enter the room she is watching the door. She looks at me. Her eyes
look like lamps blaring up just before the oil is gone. "She wants you to go
out," the girl says.
"Now, Addie," Anse says, "when he come all the way from Jefferson to git
you well?" She watches me: I can feel her eyes. It's like she was shoving at me
with them. I have seen it before in women. Seen them drive from the room them
coming with sympathy and pity, with actual help, and clinging to some trifling
animal to whom they never were more than pack-horses. That's what they mean by
the love that passeth understanding: that pride, that furious desire to hide
that abject nakedness which we bring here with us, carry with us into operating
rooms, carry stubbornly and furiously with us into the earth again. I leave the
room. Beyond the porch Cash's saw snores steadily into the board. A minute later
she calls his name, her voice harsh and strong.
"Cash," she says; "you, Cash!"
Pa stands beside the bed. From behind his leg Vardaman peers, with his round
head and his eyes round and his mouth beginning to open. She looks at pa; all
her failing life appears to drain into her eyes, urgent, irremediable. "It's
Jewel she wants," Dewey Dell says.
"Why, Addle," pa says, "him and Darl went to make one more load. They
thought there was time. That you would wait for them, and that three dollars and
all. . . ." He stoops laying his hand on hers. For a while yet she looks at him,
without reproach, without anything at all, as if her eyes alone are listening to
the irrevocable cessation of his voice. Then she raises herself, who has not
moved in ten days. Dewey Dell leans down, trying to press her back.
"Ma," she says; "ma."
She is looking out the window, at Cash stooping steadily at the board in
the failing light, laboring on toward darkness and into it as though the
stroking of the saw illumined its own motion, board and saw engendered.
"You, Cash," she shouts, her voice harsh, strong, and unimpaired. "You,
He looks up at the gaunt face framed by the window in the twilight. It is
a composite picture of all time since he was a child. He drops the saw and lifts
the board for her to see, watching the window in which the face has not moved.
He drags a second plank into position and slants the two of them into their
final juxtaposition, gesturing toward the ones yet on the ground, shaping with
his empty hand in pantomime the finished box. For a while still she looks down
at him from the composite picture, neither with censure nor approbation. Then
the face disappears.
She lies back and turns her head without so much as glancing at pa. She
looks at Vardaman; her eyes, the life in them, rushing suddenly upon them; the
two flames glare up for a steady instant. Then they go out as though someone had
leaned down and blown upon them.
"Ma," Dewey Dell says; "ma!" Leaning above the bed, her hands lifted a
little, the fan still moving like it has for ten days, she begins to keen. Her
voice is strong, young, tremulous and clear, rapt with its own timbre and
volume, the fan still moving steadily up and down, whispering the useless air.
Then she flings herself across Addle Bundren's knees, clutching her, shaking her
with the furious strength of the young before sprawling suddenly across the
handful of rotten bones that Addie Bundren left, jarring the whole bed into a
chattering sibilance of mattress shucks, her arms outflung and the fan in one
hand still beating with expiring breath into the quilt.
From behind pa's leg Vardaman peers, his mouth full open and all color
draining from his face into his mouth, as though he has by some means fleshed
his own teeth in himself, sucking. He begins to move slowly backward from the
bed, his eyes round, his pale face fading into the dusk like a piece of paper
pasted on a failing wall, and so out of the door.
Pa leans above the bed in the twilight, his humped silhouette partaking of
that owl-like quality of awry-feathered, disgruntled outrage within which lurks
a wisdom too profound or too inert for even thought.
"Durn them boys," he says.
Jewel, I say. Overhead the day drives level and gray, hiding the sun by a
flight of gray spears. In the rain the mules smoke a little, splashed yellow
with mud, the off one clinging in sliding lunges to the side of the road above
the ditch. The tilted lumber gleams dull yellow, water-soaked and heavy as
lead, tilted at a steep angle into the ditch above the broken wheel; about the
shattered spokes and about Jewel's, ankles a runnel of yellow neither water nor
earth swirls, curving with the yellow road neither of earth nor water, down the
hill dissolving into a streaming mass of dark green neither of earth nor sky.
Jewel, I say
Cash comes to the door, carrying the saw. Pa stands beside the bed,
humped, his arms dangling. He turns his head, his shabby profile, his chin
collapsing slowly as he works the snuff against his gums.
"She's gone," Cash says.
"She taken and left us," pa says. Cash does not look at him. "How nigh are
you done?" pa says. Cash does not answer. He enters, carrying the saw. "I reckon
you better get at it," pa says. "You'll have to do the best you can, with them
boys gone off that-a-way." Cash looks down at her face. He is not listening to
pa at all. He does not approach the bed. He stops in the middle of the floor,
the saw against his leg, his sweating arms powdered lightly with sawdust, his
face composed. "If you get in a tight, maybe some of themll get here tomorrow
and help you," pa says. "Vernon could." Cash is not listening. He is looking
down at her peaceful, rigid face fading into the dusk as though darkness were a
precursor of the ultimate earth, until at last the face seems to float detached
upon it, lightly as the reflection of a dead leaf. "There is Christians enough
to help you," pa says. Cash is not listening. After a while he turns without
looking at pa and leaves the room. Then the saw begins to snore again. "They
will help us in our sorrow," pa says.
The sound of the saw is steady, competent, unhurried, stirring the dying
light so that at each stroke her face seems to wake a little into an expression
of listening and of waiting, as though she were counting the strokes. Pa looks
down at the face, at the black sprawl of Dewey Dell's hair, the outflung arms,
the clutched fan now motionless on the fading quilt. "I reckon you better get
supper on," he says.
Dewey Dell does not move.
"Git up, now, and put supper on," pa says. "We got to keep our strength
up. I reckon Doctor Pea-body's right hungry, coming all this way. And Cash'll
need to eat quick and get back to work so he can finish it in time."
Dewey Dell rises, heaving to her feet. She looks down at the face. It is
like a casting of fading bronze upon the pillow, the hands alone still with any
semblance of life: a curled, gnarled ineptness; a spent yet alert quality from
which weariness, exhaustion, travail has not yet departed, as though they
doubted even yet the actuality of rest, guarding with horned and penurious
alertness the cessation which they know cannot last.
Dewey Dell stoops and slides the quilt from beneath them and draws it up
over them to the chin, smoothing it down, drawing it smooth. Then without
looking at pa she goes around the bed and leaves the room.
She will go out where Peabody is, where she can stand in the twilight and
look at his back with such an expression that, feeling her eyes and turning, he
will say: I would not let it grieve me, now. She was old, and sick too.
Suffering more than we knew. She couldn't have got well. Vardaman's getting big
now, and with you to take good care of them all. I would try not to let it
grieve me. I expect you'd better go and get some supper ready. It dont have to
be much. But they'll need to eat, and she looking at him, saying You could do
so much for me if you just would. If you just knew. I am I and you are you and
I know it and you dont know it and you could do so much for me if you just
would and if you just would then I could tell you and then nobody would have to
know it except you and me and Darl
Pa stands over the bed, dangle-armed, humped, motionless. He raises his
hand to his head, scouring his hair, listening to the saw. He comes nearer and
rubs his hand, palm and back, on his thigh and lays it on her face and then on
the hump of quilt where her hands are. He touches the quilt as he saw Dewey Dell
do, trying to smoothe it up to the chin, but disarranging it instead. He tries
to smoothe it again, clumsily, his hand awkward as a claw, smoothing at the
wrinkles which he made and which continue to emerge beneath his hand with
perverse ubiquity, so that at last he desists, his hand falling to his side and
stroking itself again, palm and back, on his thigh. The sound of the saw snores
steadily into the room. Pa breathes with a quiet, rasping sound, mouthing the
snuff against his gums. "God's will be done," he says. "Now I can get them
Jewel's hat droops limp about his neck, channelling water onto the soaked
towsack tied about his shoulders as, ankle-deep in the running ditch, he pries
with a slipping two-by-four, with a piece of rotting log for fulcrum, at the
axle. Jewel, I say, she is dead, Jewel. Addie Bundren is dead
Then I begin to run. I run toward the back and come to the edge of the porch and
stop. Then I begin to cry. I can feel where the fish was in the dust. It is cut
up into pieces of not-fish now, not-blood on my hands and overalls. Then it
wasn't so. It hadn't happened then. And now she is getting so far ahead I cannot
The trees look like chickens when they ruffle out into the cool dust on
the hot days. If I jump off the porch I will be where the fish was, and it all
cut up into not-fish now. I can hear the bed and her face and them and I can
feel the floor shake when he walks on it that came and did it. That came and did
it when she was all right but he came and did it.
"The fat son of a bitch."
I jump from the porch, running. The top of the barn comes swooping up out
of the twilight. If I jump I can go through it like the pink lady in the circus,
into the warm smelling, without having to wait My hands grab at the bushes;
beneath my feet the rocks and dirt go rubbling down.
Then I can breathe again, in the warm smelling. I enter the stall, trying
to touch him, and then I can cry then I vomit the crying. As soon as he gets
through, kicking I can and then I can cry, the crying can.
"He kilt her. He kilt her."
The life in him runs under the skin, under my hand, running through the
splotches, smelling up into my nose where the sickness is beginning to cry,
vomiting the crying, and then I can breathe, vomiting it. It makes a lot of
noise. I can smell the life running up from under my hands, up my arms, and then
I cart leave the stall.
I cannot find it. In the dark, along the dust, the walls I cannot find it.
The crying makes a lot of noise. I wish it wouldn't make so much noise. Then I
find it in the wagon shed, in the dust, and I run across the lot and into the
road, the stick jouncing on my shoulder.
They watch me as I run up, beginning to jerk back, their eyes rolling,
snorting, jerking back on the hitch-rein. I strike. I can hear the stick
striking; I can see it hitting their heads, the breast-yoke, missing altogether
sometimes as they rear and plunge, but I am glad.
"You kilt my maw!"
The stick breaks, they rearing and snorting, their feet popping loud on
the ground; loud because it is going to rain and the air is empty for the rain.
But it is still long enough. I run this way and that as they rear and jerk at
the hitch-rein, striking.
"You kilt her!"
I strike at them, striking, they wheeling in a long lunge, the buggy
wheeling onto two wheels and motionless like it is nailed to the ground and the
horses motionless like they are nailed by the hind feet to the center of a
I run in the dust.. I cannot see, running in the sucking dust where the
buggy vanishes tilted on two wheels. I strike, the stick hitting into the
ground, bouncing, striking into the dust and then into the air again and the
dust sucking on down the road faster than if a car was in it. And then I can
cry, looking at the stick. It is broken down to my hand, not longer than stove
wood that was a long stick. I throw it away and I can cry. It does not make so
much noise now.
The cow is standing in the barn door, chewing. When she sees me come into
the lot she lows, her mouth full of flopping green, her tongue flopping.
"I aint a-goin to milk you. I aint a-goin to do nothing for them."
I hear her turn when I pass. When I turn she is just behind me with her
sweet, hot, hard breath.
"Didn't I tell you I wouldn't?"
She nudges me, snuffing. She moans deep inside, her mouth closed. I jerk
my hand, cursing her like Jewel does.
I stoop my hand to the ground and run at her. She jumps back and whirls
away and stops, watching me. She moans. She goes on. to the path and stands
there, looking up the path.
It is dark in the barn, warm, smelling, silent. I can cry quietly,
watching the top of the hill.
Cash comes to the hill, limping where he fell off of the church. He looks
down at the spring, then up the road and back toward the barn. He comes down the
path stiffly and looks at the broken hitch-rein and at the dust in the road and
then up the road, where the dust is gone.
"I hope they've got clean past Tull's by now. I so hope hit."
Cash turns and limps up the path.
"Durn him. I showed him. Durn him."
I am not crying now. I am not anything. Dewey Dell comes to the hill and
calls me. Vardaman. I am not anything. I am quiet. You, Vardaman. I can cry
quiet now, feeling and hearing my tears.
"Then hit want. Hit hadn't happened then. Hit was a-layin right there on
the ground. And now she's git-tin ready to cook hit."
It is dark. I can hear wood, silence: I know them. But not living sounds,
not even him. It is as though the dark were resolving him out of his integrity,
into an unrelated scattering of components-snuffings and stampings; smells of
cooling flesh and ammoniac hair; an illusion of a co-ordinated whole of
splotched hide and strong bones within which, detached and secret and familiar,
an is different from my is. I see him dissolve-legs, a rolling eye, a gaudy
splotching like cold flames and float upon the dark in fading solution; all one
yet neither; all either yet none. I can see hearing coil toward him, caressing,
shaping his hard shape-fetlock, hip, shoulder and head; smell and sound. I am
"Cooked and et. Cooked and et."
He could do so much for me if he just would. He could do everything for me. It's
like everything in the world for me is inside a tub full of guts, so that you
wonder how there can be any room in it for anything else very important. He is a
big tub of guts and I am a little tub of guts and if there is not any room for ,
anything else important in a big tub of guts, how can it be room in a little tub
of guts. But I know it is there because God gave women a sign when something has
It's because I am alone. If I could just feel it, it would be different,
because I would not be alone. But if I were not alone, everybody would know it.
And he could do so much for me, and then I would not be alone. Then I could be
all right alone.
I would let him come in between me and Lafe, like Darl came in between me
and Lafe, and so Lafe is alone too. He is Lafe and I am Dewey Dell, and when
mother died I had to go beyond and outside of me and Lafe and Darl to grieve
because he could do so much for me and he dont know it. He dont even know it.
From the back porch I cannot see the barn. Then the sound of Cash's sawing
comes in from that way. It is like a dog outside the house, going back and forth
around the house to whatever door you come to, waiting to come in. He said I
worry more than you do and I said You dont know what worry is so I cant worry. I
try to but I cant think long enough to worry.
I light the kitchen lamp. The fish, cut into jagged pieces, bleeds quietly
in the pan. I put it into the cupboard quick, listening into the hall, hearing.
It took her ten days to die; maybe she dont know it is yet. Maybe she wont go
until Cash. Or maybe until Jewel. I take the dish of greens from the cupboard
and the bread pan from the cold stove, and I stop, watching the door.
"Where's Vardaman?" Cash says. In the lamp his sawdusted arms look like
"I dont know. I aint seen him."
"Peabody's team run away. See if you can find Vardaman. The horse will let
him catch him."
"Well. Tell them to come to supper."
I cannot see the barn. I said, I dont know how to worry. I dont know how to cry.
I tried, but I cant. After a while the sound of the saw comes around, coming
dark along the ground in the dust-dark. Then I can see him, going up and down
above the plank.
"You come in to supper," I say. "Tell him." He could do everything for me.
And he dont know it. He is his guts and I am my guts. And I am Lafe's guts.
That's it. I dont see why he didn't stay in town. We are country people, not as
good as town people. I dont see why he didn't. Then I can see the top of the
barn. The cow stands at the foot of the path, lowing. When I turn back, Cash is
I carry the buttermilk in. Pa and Cash and he are at the table.
"Where's that big fish Bud caught, sister?" he says.
I set the milk on the table. "I never had no time to cook it."
"Plain turnip greens is mighty spindling eating for a man my size," he
says. Cash is eating. About his head the print of his hat is sweated into his
hair. His shirt is blotched with sweat. He has not washed his hands and arms.
"You ought to took time," pa says. "Where's Vardaman?"
I go toward the door. "I cant find him."
"Here, sister," he says; "never mind about the fish. It'll save, I reckon.
Come on and sit down."
"I aint minding it," I say. "I'm going to milk before it sets in to rain."
Pa helps himself and pushes the dish on. But he does not begin to eat. His
hands are halfclosed on either side of his plate, his head bowed a little, his
awry hair standing into the lamplight. He looks like right after the maul hits
the steer and it no longer alive and dont yet know that it is dead.
But Cash is eating, and he is too. "You better eat something," he says. He
is looking at pa. "Like Cash and me. You'll need it."
"Ay," pa says. He rouses up, like a steer that's been kneeling in a pond
and you run at it. "She would not begrudge me it."
When I am out of sight of the house, I go fast. The cow lows at the foot
of the bluff. She nuzzles at me, snuffing, blowing her breath in a sweet, hot
blast, through my dress, against my hot nakedness, moaning. "You got to wait a
little while. Then I'll tend to you." She follows me into the barn where I set
the bucket down. She breathes into the bucket, moaning. "I told you. You just
got to wait, now. I got more to do than I can tend to." The barn is dark. When I
pass, he kicks the wall a single blow. I go on. The broken plank is like a pale
plank standing on end. Then I can see the slope, feel the air moving on my face
again, slow, pale with lesser dark and with empty seeing, the pine clumps
blotched up the tilted slope, secret and waiting.
The cow in silhouette against the door nuzzles at the silhouette of the
Then I pass the stall. I have almost passed it, I listen to it saying for
a long time before it can say the word and the listening part is afraid that
there may not be time to say it I feel my body, my bones and flesh beginning to
part and open upon the alone, and the process of coming unalone is terrible.
Lafe. Lafe. "Lafe" Lafe. Lafe. I lean a little forward, one foot advanced with
dead walking. I feel the darkness rushing past my breast, past the cow; I begin
to rush upon the darkness but the cow stops me and the darkness rushes on upon
the sweet blast of her moaning breath, filled with wood and with silence.
"Vardaman. You, Vardaman."
He comes out of the stall. "You durn little sneak! You durn little sneak!"
He does not resist; the last of rushing darkness flees whistling away.
"What? I aint done nothing."
"You durn little sneak!" My hands shake him, hard. Maybe I couldn't stop
them. I didn't know they could shake so hard. They shake both of us, shaking.
"I never done it," he says. "I never touched them."
My hands stop shaking him, but I still hold him. "What are you doing here?
Why didn't you answer when I called you?"
"I aint doing nothing."
"You go on to the house and get your supper."
He draws back. I hold him. "You quit now. You leave me be."
"What were you doing down here? You didn't come down here to sneak after
"I never. I never. You quit, now. I didn't even know you was down here.
You leave me be."
I hold him, leaning down to see his face, feel it with my eyes. He is
about to cry. "Go on, now. I done put supper on and I'll be there soon as I
milk. You better go on before he eats everything up. I hope that team runs clean
back to Jefferson."
"He kilt her," he says. He begins to cry.
"She never hurt him and he come and kilt her."
"Hush." He struggles. I hold him. "Hush."
"He kilt her." The cow comes up behind us, moaning. I shake him again.
"You stop it, now. Right this minute. You're fixing to make yourself sick
and then you cant go to town. You go on to the house and eat your supper."
"I dont want no supper. I dont want to go to town."
"We'll leave you here, then. Lessen you behave, we will leave you. Go on,
now, before that old green-eating tub of guts eats everything up from you." He
goes on, disappearing slowly into the hill. The crest, the trees, the roof of
the house stand against the sky. The cow nuzzles at me, moaning. "Youll just
have to wait. What you got in you aint nothing to what I got in me, even if you
are a woman too." She follows me, moaning. Then the dead, hot, pale air breathes
on my face again. He could fix it all right, if he just would. And he dont even
know it. He could do everything for me if he just knowed it. The cow breathes
upon my hips and back, her breath warm, sweet, stertorous, moaning. The sky lies
flat down the slope, upon the secret dumps. Beyond the hill sheet-lightning
stains upward and fades. The dead air shapes the dead earth in the dead
darkness, further away than seeing shapes the dead earth. It lies dead and warm
upon me, touching me naked through my clothes. I said You dont know what worry
is. I dont know what it is. I dont know whether I am worrying or not. Whether I
can or not. I dont know whether I can cry or not. I dont know whether I have
tried to or not. I feel like a wet seed wild in the hot blind earth.
When they get it finished they are going to put her in it and then for a long
time I couldn't say it. I saw the dark stand up and go whirling away and I said
"Are you going to nail her up in it, Cash? Cash? Cash?" I got shut up in the
crib the new door it was too heavy for me it went shut I couldn't breathe
because the rat was breathing up all the air. I said "Are you going to nail it
shut, Cash? Nail it? Nail it?"
Pa walks around. His shadow walks around, over Cash going up and down
above the saw, at the bleeding plank.
Dewey Dell said we will get some bananas. The train is behind the glass,
red on the track. When it runs the track shines on and off. Pa said flour and
sugar and coffee costs so much. Because I am a country boy because boys in town.
Bicycles. Why do flour and sugar and coffee cost so much when he is a country
boy. "Wouldn't you ruther have some bananas instead?" Bananas are gone, eaten.
Gone. When it runs on the track shines again. "Why aint I a town boy, pa?" I
said. God made me. I did not said to God to made me in the country. If He can
make the train, why cant He make them all in the town because flour and sugar
and coffee. "Wouldn't you ruther have bananas?"
He walks around. His shadow walks around.
It was not her. I was there, looking. I saw. I thought it was her, but it
was not. It was not my mother. She went away when the other one laid down in her
bed and drew the quilt up. She went away. "Did she go as far as town?" "She went
further than town." "Did all those rabbits and possums go further than town?"
God made the rabbits and possums. He made the train. Why must He make a
different place for them to go if she is just like the rabbit.
Pa walks around. His shadow does. The saw sounds like it is asleep.
And so if Cash nails the box up, she is not a rabbit. And so if she is not
a rabbit I couldn't breathe in the crib and Cash is going to nail it up. And so
if she lets him it is not her. I know. I was there. I saw when it did not be
her. I saw. They think it is and Cash is going to nail it up.
It was not her because it was laying right yonder in the dirt. And now
it's all chopped up. I chopped it up. It's laying in the kitchen in the bleeding
pan, waiting to be cooked and et. Then it wasn't and she was, and now it is and
she wasn't. And tomorrow it will be cooked and et and she will be him and pa and
Cash and Dewey Dell and there wont be anything in the box and so she can
breathe. It was laying right yonder on the ground. I can get Vernon. He was
there and he seen it, and with both of us it will be and then it will not be.
It was nigh to midnight and it had set into rain when he woke us. It had been a
misdoubtful night, with the storm making; a night when a fellow looks for most
anything to happen before he can get the stock fed and himself to the house and
supper et and in bed with the rain starting, and when Peabody's team come up,
lathered, with the broke harness dragging and the neck-yoke betwixt the off
critter's legs, Cora says "It's Addie Bundren. She's gone at last."
"Peabody mought have been to ere a one of a dozen houses hereabouts," I
says. "Besides, how do you know it's Peabody's team?"
"Well, aint it?" she says. "You hitch up, now."
"What for?" I says. "If she is gone, we cant do nothing till morning. And
it fixing to storm, too."
"It's my duty," she says. "You put the team in."
But I wouldn't do it. "It stands to reason they'd send for us if they
needed us. You dont even know she's gone yet."
"Why, dont you know that's Peabody's team? Do you claim it aint? Well,
then." But I wouldn't go. When folks wants a fellow, it's best to wait till they
sends for him, I've found. "It's my Christian duty," Cora says. "Will you stand
between me and my Christian duty?"
"You can stay there all day tomorrow, if you want," I says.
So when Cora waked me it had set in to rain. Even while I was going to the
door with the lamp and it shining on the glass so he could see I am coming, it
kept on knocking. Not loud, but steady, like he might have gone to sleep
thumping, but I never noticed how low down on the door the knocking was till I
opened it and never seen nothing. I held the lamp up, with the rain sparkling
across it and Cora back in the hall saying "Who is it, Vernon?" but I couldn't
see nobody a-tall at first until I looked down and around the door, lowering the
He looked like a drownded puppy, in them overalls, without no hat,
splashed up to his knees where he had walked them four miles in the mud. "Well,
I'll be durned," I says.
"Who is it, Vernon?" Cora says.
He looked at me, his eyes round and black in the middle like when you
throw a light in a owl's face. "You mind that ere fish," he says.
"Come in the house," I says. "What is it? Is your maw--"
"Vernon," Cora says.
He stood kind of around behind the door, in the dark. The rain was blowing
onto the lamp, hissing on it so I am scared every minute it'll break. "You was
there," he says. "You seen it."
Then Cora come to the door. "You come right in outen the rain," she says,
pulling him in and him watching me. He looked just like a drownded puppy. "I
told you," Cora says. "I told you it was a-happening. You go and hitch."
"But he aint said--" I says.
He looked at me, dripping onto the floor. "He's a-ruining the rug," Cora
says. "You go get the team while I take him to the kitchen."
But he hung back, dripping, watching me with them eyes. "You was there.
You seen it laying there. Cash is fixing to nail her up; and it was a-laying
right there on the ground. You seen it. You seen the mark in the dirt. The rain
never come up till after I was a-coming here. So we can get back in time."
I be durn if it didn't give me the creeps, even when I didn't know yet.
But Cora did. "You get that team quick as you can," she says. "He's outen his
head with grief and worry."
I be durn if it didn't give me the creeps. Now and then a fellow gets to
thinking. About all the sorrow and afflictions in this world; how it's liable to
strike anywhere, like lightning. I reckon it does take a powerful trust in the
Lord to guard a fellow, though sometimes I think that Cora's a mite overcautious,
like she was trying to crowd the other folks away and get in closer
than anybody else. But then, when something like this happens, I reckon she is
right and you got to keep after it and I reckon I am blessed in having a wife
that ever strives for sanctify and well-doing like she says I am.
Now and then a fellow gets to thinking about it. Not often, though. Which
is a good thing. For the Lord aimed for him to do and not to spend too much time
thinking, because his brain it's like a piece of machinery: it wont stand a
whole lot of racking. It's best when it all runs along the same, doing the day's
work and not no one part used no more than needful. I have said and I say again,
that's ever living thing the matter with Darl: he just thinks by himself too
much. Cora's right when she says all he needs is a wife to straighten him out.
And when I think about that, I think that if nothing but being married will help
a man, he's durn nigh hopeless. But I reckon Cora's right when she says the
reason the Lord had to create women is because man dont know his own good when
he sees it.
When I come back to the house with the team, they was in the kitchen. She
was dressed on top of her nightgownd, with a shawl over her head and her
umbrella and her bible wrapped up in the oilcloth, and him sitting on a upturned
bucket on the stove-zinc where she had put him, dripping onto the floor.
I cant get nothing outen him except about a fish," she says. It's a judgment on
them. I see the hand of the Lord upon this boy for Anse Bundrens judgment and
"The rain never come up till after I left," he says. "I had done left. I
was on the way. And so it was there in the dust. You seen it. Cash is fixing to
nail her, but you seen it."
When we got there it was raining hard, and him sitting on the seat between
us, wrapped up in Cora's shawl. He hadn't said nothing else, just sitting there
with Cora holding the umbrella over him. Now and then Cora would stop singing
long enough to say "It's a judgment on Anse Bundren. May it show him the path of
sin he is a-trodding." Then she would sing again, and him sitting there between
us, leaning forward a little like the mules couldn't go fast enough to suit him.
"It was laying right yonder," he says, "but the rain come up after I taken
and left. So I can go and open the windows, because Cash aint nailed her yet."
It was long a-past midnight when we drove the last nail, and almost dustdawn
when I got back home and taken the team out and got back in bed, with
Cora's nightcap laying on the other pillow. And be durned if even then it wasn't
like I could still hear Cora singing and feel that boy leaning forward between
us like he was ahead of the mules, and still see Cash going up and down with
that saw, and Anse standing there like a scarecrow, like he was a steer standing
knee-deep in a pond and somebody come by and set the pond up on edge and he aint
missed it yet.
It was nigh toward daybreak when we drove the last nail and toted it into
the house, where she was laying on the bed with the window open and the rain
blowing on her again. Twice he did it, and him so dead for sleep that Cora says
his face looked like one of these here Christmas masts that had done been buried
a while and then dug up, until at last they put her into it and nailed it down
so he couldn't open the window on her no more. And the next morning they found
him in his shirt tail, laying asleep on the floor like a felled steer, and the
top of the box bored clean full of holes and Cash's new auger broke off in the
last one. When they taken the lid off they found that two of them had bored on
into her face.
If it's a judgment, it aint right. Because the Lord's got more to do than
that. He's bound to have. Because the only burden Anse Bundren's ever had is
himself. And when folks talks him low, I think to myself he aint that less of a
man or he couldn't a bore himself this long.
It aint right. I be durn if it is. Because He said Suffer little children
to come unto Me dont make it right, neither. Cora said, I have bore you what the
Lord God sent me. I faced it without fear nor terror because my faith was strong
in the Lord, a-bolstering and sustaining me. If you have no son, it's because
the Lord has decreed otherwise in His wisdom. And my life is and has ever been a
open book to ere a man or woman among His creatures because I trust in my God
and my reward."
I reckon she's right. I reckon if there's ere a man or woman anywhere that
He could turn it all over to and go away with His mind at rest, it would be
Cora. And I reckon she would make a few changes, no matter how He was running it
And I reckon they would be for man's good. Leastways, we would have to like
them. Leastways, we might as well go on and make like we did.
The lantern sits on a stump. Rusted, grease-fouled, its cracked chimney smeared
on one side with a soaring smudge of soot, it sheds a feeble and sultry glare
upon the trestles and the boards and the adjacent earth. Upon the dark ground
the chips look like random smears of soft pale paint on a black canvas. The
boards look like long smooth tatters torn from the flat darkness and turned
Cash labors about the trestles, moving back and forth, lifting and placing
the planks with long clattering reverberations in the dead air as though he were
lifting and dropping them at the bottom of an invisible well, the sounds ceasing
without departing, as if any movement might dislodge them from the immediate air
in reverberant repetition. He saws again, his elbow flashing slowly, a thin
thread of fire running along the edge of the saw, lost and recovered at the top
and bottom of each stroke in unbroken elongation, so that the saw appears to be
six feet long, into and out of pa's shabby and aimless silhouette. "Give me that
plank," Cash says. "No; the other one." He puts the saw down and comes and picks
up the plank he wants, sweeping pa away with the long swinging gleam of the
The air smells like sulphur. Upon the impalpable plane of it their shadows
form as upon a wall, as though like sound they had not gone very far away in
falling but had merely congealed for a moment, immediate and musing. Cash works
on, half turned into the feeble light, one thigh and one pole-thin arm braced,
his face sloped into the light with a rapt, dynamic immobility above his
tireless elbow. Below the sky sheet-lightning slumbers lightly; against it the
trees, motionless, are ruffled out to the last twig, swollen, increased as
though quick with young.
It begins to rain. The first harsh, sparse, swift drops rush through the
leaves and across the ground in a long sigh, as though of relief from
intolerable suspense. They are big as buckshot, warm as though fired from a gun;
they sweep across the lantern in a vicious hissing. Pa lifts his face, slackmouthed,
the wet black rim of snuff plastered close along the base of his gums;
from behind his slack-faced astonishment he 'muses as though from beyond time,
upon the ultimate outrage. Cash looks once at the sky, then at the lantern. The
saw has not faltered, the running gleam of its pistoning edge unbroken. "Get
something to cover the lantern," he says.
Pa goes to the house. The rain rushes suddenly down, without thunder,
without warning of any sort; he is swept onto the porch upon the edge of it and
in an instant Cash is wet to the skin. Yet the motion of the saw has not
faltered, as though it and the arm functioned in a tranquil conviction that rain
was an illusion of the mind. Then he puts down the saw and goes and crouches
above the lantern, shielding it with his body, his back shaped lean and scrawny
by his wet shirt as though he had been abruptly turned wrong, side out, shirt
Pa returns. He is wearing Jewel's raincoat and carrying Dewey Dell's.
Squatting over the lantern, Cash reaches back and picks up four sticks and
drives them into the earth and takes Dewey Dell's raincoat from pa and spreads
it over the sticks, forming a roof above the lantern. Pa watches him. "I dont
know what you'll do," he says. "Darl taken his coat with him."
"Get wet", Cash says. He takes up the saw again; again it moves up and
down, in and out of that unhurried imperviousness as a piston moves in the oil;
soaked, scrawny, tireless, with the lean light body o£ a boy or an old man. Pa
watches him, blinking, his. face streaming; again he looks up at the sky with
that expression of dumb and brooding outrage and yet of vindication, as though
he had expected no less; now and then he stirs, moves, gaunt and streaming,
picking up a board or a tool and then laying it down. Vernon Tull is there now,
and Cash is wearing Mrs Tull's raincoat and he and Vernon are hunting the saw.
After a while they find it in pa's hand.
"Why dont you go on to the house, out of the rain?" Cash says. Pa looks at
him, his face streaming slowly. It is as though upon a face carved by a savage
caricaturist a monstrous "burlesque of all bereavement flowed. "You go on in,"
Cash says. "Me and Vernon can finish it."
Pa looks at item. The sleeves of Jewel's coat are too short for him. Upon
his face the rain streams, slow as cold glycerin. "I dont begrudge her the
wetting," he says. He moves again and falls to shifting the planks, picking them
up, laying them down again carefully, as though they are glass. He goes to the
lantern and pulls at the propped raincoat until he knocks it down and Cash
conies and fixes it back.
"You get on to the house," Cash says. He leads pa to the house and returns
with the raincoat and folds it and places it beneath the shelter where the
lantern sits. Vernon has not stopped. He looks up, still sawing.
"You ought to done that at first," he says. "You knowed it was fixing to
"It's his fever," Cash says. He looks at the board.
"Ay," Vernon says. "He'd a come, anyway."
Cash squints at the board. On the long flank of it the rain crashes
steadily, myriad, fluctuant. "I'm going to bevel it," he says.
"It'll take more time," Vernon says. Cash sets the plank on edge; a moment
longer Vernon watches him, then he hands him the plane.
Vernon holds the board steady while Cash, bevels the edge of it with the
tedious and minute care of a jeweler. Mrs Tull comes to the edge of the porch
and calls Vernon. "How near are you done?" she says.
Vernon does not look up. "Not long. Some, yet."
She watches Cash stooping at the plank, the turgid savage gleam of the
lantern slicking on the raincoat AS he moves. "You go down and get some planks
off the barn and finish it and come in out of the rain," she says. "You'll both
catch your death." Vernon does not move. "Vernon," she says.
"We wont be long," he says. "We'll be done after a spell." Mrs Tull
watches them a while. Then she reenters the house.
"If we get in a tight, we could take some of them planks," Vernon says.
"I'll help you put them back."
Cash ceases the plane and squints along the plank, wiping it with his
palm. "Give me the next one," he says.
Some time toward dawn the rain ceases. But it is not yet day when Cash
drives the last nail and stands stiffly up and looks down at the finished
coffin, the others watching him. In the lantern light his face is calm, musing;
slowly he strokes his hands on his rain-coated thighs in a gesture deliberate,
final and composed. Then the four of them--Cash and pa and Vernon and Peabody-
raise the coffin to their shoulders and turn toward the house. It is light, yet
they move slowly; empty, yet they carry it carefully; lifeless, yet they move
with hushed precautionary words to one another, speaking of it as though,
complete, it now slumbered lightly alive, waiting to come awake. On the dark
floor their feet clump awkwardly, as though for a long time they have not walked
They set it down by the bed. Peabody says quietly: "Let's eat a snack.
It's almost daylight. Where's Cash?"
He has returned to the trestles, stooped again in the lantern's feeble
glare as he gathers up his tools and wipes them on a cloth carefully and puts
them into the box with its leather sling to go over the shoulder. Then he takes
up box, lantern and raincoat and returns to the house, mounting the steps into
faint silhouette against the paling east.
In a strange room you must empty yourself for sleep. And before you are
emptied for sleep, what are you. And when you are emptied for sleep, you are
not. And when you are filled with sleep, you never were. I dont know what I am.
I dont know if I am or not. Jewel knows he is, because he does not know that he
does not know whether he is or not. He cannot empty himself for sleep because he
is not what he is and he is what he is not. Beyond the unlamped wall I can hear
the rain shaping the wagon that is ours, the load that is no longer theirs that
felled and sawed it nor yet theirs that bought it and which is not ours either,
lie on our wagon though it does, since only the wind and the rain shape it only
to Jewel and me, that are not asleep. And since sleep is is-not and rain and
wind are was, it is not. Yet the wagon is, because when the wagon is was, Addie
Bundren will not be. And Jewel is, so Addie Bundren must be. And then I must be,
or I could not empty myself for sleep in a strange room. And so if I am not
emptied yet, I am is.
How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.
I made it on the bevel.
1 . There is more surface for the nails to grip.
2. There is twice the gripping-surface to each seam.
3. The water will have to seep into it on a slant. Water moves easiest up
and down or straight across.
4. In a house people are upright two thirds of the time. So the seams and
joints are made up-and-down. Because the stress is up-and-down.
5. In a bed where people lie down all the time, the joints and seams are
made sideways, because the stress is sideways.
7. A body is not square like a crosstie.
8. Animal magnetism.
9. The animal magnetism of a dead body makes the stress come slanting, so
the seams and joints of a coffin are made on the bevel.
10. You can see by an old grave that the earth sinks down on the bevel.
1 1 . While in a natural hole it sinks by the center, the stress being upand-
12. So I made it on the bevel.
13. It makes a neater job.
My mother is a fish.
It was ten oclock when I got back, with Peabody's team hitched on to the back of
the wagon. They had already dragged the buckboard back from where
Quick found it upside down straddle of the ditch about a mile from the spring.
It was pulled out of the road at the spring, and about a dozen wagons was
already there. It was Quick found it. He said the rive was up and still rising.
He said it had already covered the highest water-mark on the bridge-piling he
ever seen. "That bridge wont stand a whole lot water," I said. "Has somebody
told Anse about it?"
"I told him," Quick said. "He says he reckons the boys has heard and
unloaded and are on the way by now. He says they can load up and get across."
"He better go on and bury her at New Hope," Armstid said. "That bridge is
old. I wouldn't monkey with it."
"His mind is set on taking her to Jefferson," Quick said.
"Then he better get at it soon as he can," Armstid said.
Anse meets us at the door. He has shaved, but not good. There is a long
cut on his jaw, and he is wearing his Sunday pants and a white shirt with the
neckband buttoned. It is drawn smooth over his hump, making it look bigger than
ever, like a white shirt will, and his face is different too. He looks folks in
the eye now, dignified, his face tragic and composed, shaking us by the hand as
we walk up onto the porch and scrape our shoes, a little stiff in our Sunday
clothes, our Sunday clothes rustling, not looking full at him as he meets us.
"The Lord giveth," we say.
"The Lord giveth."
That boy is not there. Peabody told about how he come into the kitchen,
hollering, swarming and clawing at Cora when he found her cooking that fish, and
how Dewey Dell taken him down to the barn. "My team all right?" Peabody says.
"All right," I tell him. "I give them a bait this morning. Your buggy
seems all right too. It aint hurt."
"And no fault of somebody's," he says. "I'd give a nickel to know where
that boy was when that team broke away."
"If it's broke anywhere, I'll fix it," I say.
The women folks go on into the house. We can hear them, talking and
fanning. The fans go whish. whish. whish and them talking, the talking sounding
kind of like "bees murmuring in a water bucket. The men stop on the porch,
talking some, not looking at one another.
"Howdy, Vernon," they say. "Howdy, Tull."
"Looks like more rain."
"It does for a fact."
"Yes, sir. It will rain some more."
"It come up quick."
"And going away slow. It dont fail."
I go around to the back. Cash is filling up the holes lie bored in the top
of it. He is trimming out plugs for them, one at a time, the wood wet and hard
to work. He could cut up a tin can and hide the holes and nobody wouldn't know
the difference. Wouldn't mind, anyway. I have seen him spend a hour trimming out
a wedge like it was glass he was working, when, he could have reached around and
picked tip a dozen sticks and drove them Into the joint and made it do.
When we finished I go back to the front. The men have gone a little piece
from the house, sitting on the ends of the boards and on the sawhorses where we
made it last night, some sitting and some squatting, Whitfield aint come yet.
They look up at me, their eyes asking.
"It's about," I say. "He's ready to nail."
While they are getting up Anse comes to file clod and looks at us and we
return to the porch. We scrape our shoes again, careful, waiting for one another
to go in first, milling a little at the door. Anse stands inside the door,
dignified, composed. He waves us in and leads the way into the room.
They had laid her in it reversed. Cash made it clock-shape, like this
seam bevelled and with every joint a scrubbed with the plane, tight as a drum
and neat as a sewing basket, and they had laid her in it head to foot so it
wouldn't crush her dress. It was her wedding dress and it had a flare-out
bottom, and they had laid her head to foot in it so the dress could spread out,
and they had made her a veil out of a mosquito bar so the auger holes in her
face wouldn't show.
When we are going out, Whitfield comes. He is wet and muddy to the waist,
coming in. "The Lord comfort this house," he says. "I was late because the
bridge has gone. I went down to the old ford and swum my horse over, the Lord
protecting me. His grace be upon this house."
We go back to the trestles and plank-ends and sit or squat.
"I knowed it would go," Armstid says.
"It's been there a long time, that ere bridge," Quick says.
"The Lord has kept it there, yon mean," Uncle Billy says. "I dont know ere
a man that's touched hammer to it in twenty-five years."
"How long has it been there, Uncle Billy?" Quick says.
"It was built in let me see It was in the year 1 888,"
Uncle Billy says. "I mind it because the first man to cross it was Peabody
coming to my house when Jody was born."
"If I'd a crossed it every time your wife littered since, it'd a been wore
out long before this, Billy," Peabody says.
We laugh, suddenly loud, then suddenly quiet again. We look a little aside
at one another.
"Lots of folks has crossed it that wont cross no more bridges," Houston
"It's a fact," Littlejohn says. It's so."
"One more aint, no ways," Armstid says. "It'd taken them two-three days to
got her to town in the wagon. They'd be gone a week, getting her to Jefferson
"What's Anse so itching to take her to Jefferson for, anyway?" Houston
"He promised her," I say. "She wanted it. She come from there. Her mind
was set on it."
"And Anse is set on it, too," Quick says.
"Ay," Uncle Billy says. "It's like a man that's let everything slide all
his life to get set on something that will make the most trouble for everybody
"Well, it'll take the Lord to get her over that river now," Peabody says.
"Anse cant do it."
"And I reckon He will," Quick says. "He's took care of Anse a long time,
"It's a fact," Littlejohn says.
"Too long to quit now," Armstid says.
"I reckon He's like everybody else around here, Uncle Billy says. "He's
done it so long now He cant quit."
Cash comes out. He has put on a clean shirt; his hair wet, is combed
smooth down on his brow, smooth and black as if he had painted it onto his head,
squats stiffly among us, we watching him.
"You feeling this weather, aint you?" Armstid says.
Cash says nothing.
"A broke bone always feels it," Littlejohn says. . fellow with a broke
bone can tell it a-coming."
"Lucky Cash got off with just a broke leg," Armstid says. "He might have
hurt himself bed-rid. How far'd you fall, Cash?"
"Twenty-eight foot, four and a half inches, about," Cash says. I move over
"A fellow can sho slip quick on wet planks," Quick says.
"It's too bad," I say. "But you couldn't a holp it."
"It's them durn women," he says. "I made it to balance with her. I made it
to her measure and weight"
If it takes wet boards for folks to fall, it's fixing to be lots of
falling before this spell is done.
"You couldn't have holp it" I say.
/ dont mind the folks falling. It's the cotton and corn I mind.
Neither does Peabody mind the folks falling. How bout it, Doc?
It's a fact. Washed clean outen the ground it will be. Seems like
something is always happening to it.
Course it does. That's why it's worth anything. If nothing didn't happen
and everybody made a big crop, do you reckon it would be worth the raising?
Well, I be durn if I like to see my work washed outen the ground, work I
It's a fact. A fellow wouldn't mind seeing it washed up if he could just
turn on the rain himself.
Who is that man can do that? Where is the color of his eyes?
Ay. The Lord made it to grow. It's Hisn to wash up if He sees it fitten
"You couldn't have holp it," I say.
"It's them durn women," he says.
In the house the women begin to sing. We hear the first line commence,
beginning to swell as they take hold, and we rise and move toward the door,
taking off our hats and throwing our chews away. We do not go in. We stop at the
steps, clumped, holding our hats between our lax hands in front or behind,
standing with one foot advanced and our heads lowered, looking aside, down at
our hats in our hands and at the earth or now and then at the sky and at one
another's grave, composed face.
The song ends; the voices quaver away with a rich and dying fall.
Whitfield begins. His voice in bigger than him. It's like they are not the same.
It's like he is one, and his voice is one, swimming on two horses side by side
across the ford and coming into the house, the mud-splashed one and the one that
never even got Wet, triumphant and sad. Somebody in the house begins to cry. It
sounds like her eyes and her voice were turned back inside her, listening; we
move, shifting to the other leg, meeting one another's eye and making like they
Whitfield stops at last. The women sing again. In the thick air it's like
their voices come out of the air, flowing together and on in the sad, comforting
tunes, When they cease it's like they hadn't gone away. It's like they had just
disappeared into the air and when we moved we would loose them again out of the
air around us, sad and comforting. Then they finish and we put on our hats, our
movements stiff, like we hadn't never wore hats before.
On the way home Cora is still singing. "I am bounding toward my God and my
reward," she sings, sitting on the wagon, the shawl around her shoulder and the
umbrella open over her, though it is not raining.
"She has hern," I say. "Wherever she went, she has her reward in being
free of Anse Bundren." She laid there three days in that box, waiting for Darl
and Jewel to come clean back home and get a new wheel and go back to where the
wagon was in the ditch. Take my team, Anse, I said.
We'll wait for ourn, he said. She'll want it so. She was ever a
On the third day they got back and they loaded her into the wagon and
started and it already too late. You'll have to go all the way round by
Samson's bridge. It'll take you a day to get there. Then you'll be forty miles
from Jefferson. Take my team, Anse.
We'll wait for ourn. She'll want it so.
It was about a mile from the house we saw him, sitting on the edge of the
slough. It hadn't had a fish in it never that I knowed. He looked around at us,
his eyes round and calm, his face dirty, the pole across his knees. Cora was
"This aint no good day to fish," I said, "You come on home with us and me
and you'll go down to the river first thing in the morning and catch some fish."
"It's one in here,' he said. "Dewey Dell seen it."
"You come on with us. The river's the best place."
"It's in here," he said. "Dewey Dell seen it."
"I'm bounding toward my God and my reward," Cora sung.
It's not your horse that's dead, Jewel," I say. He sits erect on the seat,
leaning a little forward, wooden-backed. The brim of his hat has soaked free of
the crown in two places, drooping across his wooden face so that, head lowered,
he looks through it like through the visor of a helmet, looking long across the
valley to where the barn leans against the bluff, shaping the invisible horse.
"See them?" I say. High above the house, against the quick thick sky, they hang
in narrowing circles. From here they are no more than specks, implacable,
patient, portentous. "But it's not your horse that's dead."
"Goddamn you," he says. "Goddamn you."
I cannot love my mother because I have no mother. Jewel's mother is a
Motionless, the tall buzzards hang in soaring circles, the clouds giving
them an illusion of retrograde.
Motionless, wooden-backed, wooden-faced, he shapes the horse in a rigid
stoop like a hawk, hook-winged. They are waiting for us, ready for the moving of
it, waiting for him. He enters the stall and waits until it kicks at him so that
he can slip past and mount onto the trough and pause, peering out across the
intervening stall-tops toward the empty path, before he reaches into the loft.
"Goddamn him. Goddamn him."
It wont balance. If you want it to tote and ride on a balance, we will have--"
"Pick up. Goddamn you, pick up."
"I'm telling you it wont tote and it wont ride on a balance unless--"
"Pick up! Pick up!, goddamn your thick-nosed soul to hell, pick up!"
It wont balance. If they want it to tote and ride on a balance, they will
He stoops among us above it, two of the eight hands. In his face the blood goes
in waves. In between them his flesh is greenish looking, about that smooth,
thick, pale green of cow's cud; his face suffocated, furious, his lip lifted
upon his teeth. "Pick up!" he says. "Pick up, goddamn your thick-nosed soul!"
He heaves, lifting one whole side so suddenly that we all spring into the
lift to catch and balance it before he hurls it completely over. For an instant
it resists, as though volitional, as though within it her pole-thin body clings
furiously, even though dead, to a sort of modesty, as she would have tried to
conceal a soiled garment that she could not prevent her body soiling. Then it
breaks free, rising suddenly as though the emaciation of her "body had added
buoyancy to the planks or as though, seeing that the garment was about to be
torn from her, she rushes suddenly after it in a passionate reversal that flouts
its own desire and need. Jewel's face goes completely green and I can hear teeth
in his breath.
We carry it down the hall, our feet harsh and clumsy on the floor, moving
with shuffling steps, and through the door.
"Steady it a minute, now," pa says, letting go. He turns back to shut and
lock the door, but Jewel will not wait.
"Come on," he says in that suffocating voice. "Come on."
We lower it carefully down the steps. We move, Balancing it as though it
were something infinitely precious, our faces averted, breathing through our
teeth to keep our nostrils closed. We go down the path, toward the slope.
"We better wait," Cash says. "I tell you it aint balanced now. We'll need
another hand on that hill."
"Then turn loose," Jewel says. He will not stop. Cash begins to fall
behind, hobbling to keep up, breathing harshly; then he is distanced and Jewel
carries the entire front end alone, so that, tilting as the path begins to
slant, it begins to rush away from me and slip down the air like a sled upon
invisible snow, smoothly evacuating atmosphere in which the sense of it is still
"Wait, Jewel," I say. But he will not wait. He is almost running now and
Cash is left behind. It seems to me that the end which I now carry alone has no
weight, as though it coasts like a rushing straw upon the furious tide of
Jewel's despair. I am not even touching it when, turning, he lets it overshoot
him, swinging, and stops it and sloughs it into the wagon bed in the same motion
and looks back at me, his face suffused with fury and despair.
"Goddamn you. Goddamn you."
We are going to town. Dewey Dell says it wont be sold because it belongs to
Santa Claus and he taken it back with him until next Christmas. Then it will be
behind the glass again, shining with waiting.
Pa and Cash are coming down the hill, but Jewel is going to the barn.
"Jewel," pa says. Jewel does not stop. "Where you going?" pa says. But Jewel
does not stop. "You leave that horse here," pa says. Jewel stops and looks at
pa. Jewel's eyes look like marbles. "You leave that horse here," pa says. "We'll
all go in. the wagon with ma, like she wanted."
But my mother is a fish. Vernon seen it. He was there.
"Jewel's mother is a horse," Darl said.
"Then mine can be a fish, cant it, Darl?" I said.
Jewel is my brother.
"Then mine will have to be a horse, too," I said.
"Why?" Darl said. "If pa is your pa, why does your ma have to be a horse
just because Jewel's is?"
"Why does it?" I said. "Why does it, Darl?"
Darl is my brother.
"Then what is your ma, Darl?" I said.
"I haven't got ere one," Darl said. "Because if I had one, it is was. And
if it is was, it cant be is. Can it?"
"No," I said.
"Then I am not," Darl said. "Am I?"
"No," I said.
I am. Darl is my brother.
"But you are, Darl," I said.
"I know it," Darl said. "That's why I am not is. Are is too many for one
woman to foal."
Cash is carrying his tool box. Pa looks at him. "Ill stop at Tull's on the
way back," Cash. says. "Get on that barn roof."
"It aint respectful," pa says. "It's a deliberate flouting of her and of
"Do you want him to come all the way back hero and carry them up to Tull's
afoot?" Darl says. Pa look's at Darl, his mouth chewing. Pa shaves every day now
because my mother is a fish.
"It aint right," pa says.
Dewey Dell has the package in her hand. She has the basket with our dinner
"What's that?" pa says.
"Mrs Tull's cakes," Dewey Dell says, getting into the wagon. "I'm taking
them to town for her."
"It aint right," pa says. "It's a flouting of the dead."
It'll be there. It'll be there come Christmas, she says, shining on the
track. She says he wont sell it to no town boys.
He goes on toward the barn, entering the lot, wooden-backed.
Dewey Dell carries the basket on one arm, in the other hand something
wrapped square in a newspaper. Her face is calm and sullen, her eyes brooding
and alert; within them I can see Peabody's back like two round peas in two
thimbles: perhaps in Peabody's back two of those worms which work surreptitious
and steady through you and out the other side and you waking suddenly from sleep
or from waking, with on your face an expression sudden, intent, and concerned.
She sets the basket into the wagon and climbs in, her leg coming long from
beneath her tightening dress: that lever which moves the world; one of that
caliper which measures the length and breadth of life. She sits on the seat
beside Vardaman and sets the parcel on her lap.
Then he enters the barn. He has not looked back.
"It aint rights" pa says. It's little enough for him to do for her."
"Go on," Cash says. "Leave him stay if he wants. He'll be all right here.
Maybe he'll go up to Tull's and stay."
"He'll catch us," I say. "He'll cut across and meet us at Tull's lane."
"He would have rid that horse, too," pa says, "if I hadn't a stopped him.
A durn spotted critter wilder than a cattymount. A deliberate flouting of her
and of me."
The wagon moves; the mules' ears begin to bob. Behind us, above the house,
motionless in tall and soaring circles, they diminish and disappear.
I told him not to bring that horse out of respect for his dead ma, because it
wouldn't look right, him prancing along on a durn circus animal and her wanting
us all to be in the wagon with her that sprung; from her flesh and blood, but we
hadn't no more than passed Tuffs lane when Darl begun to laugh. Setting: back
there on the plank seat with Cash, with his dead ma laying in her coffin at his
feet, laughing. How many times I told him if s doing such things as that that
makes folks talk about him, I dont know. I says I got some regard for what folks
says about my flesh, and blood even if you haven't, even if I have raised such a
durn passel of boys, and when you fixes it so folks can say such about you, it's
a reflection on your ma, I says, not me: I am a man and I can stand it; it's on
your womenfolks, your ma and sister that you should care for, and I turned and
looked back at him and him setting there, laughing.
"I dont expect you to have no respect for me," I says. "But with your own
ma not cold in her coffin yet."
"Yonder," Cash says, jerking his head toward the lane. The horse is still
a right smart piece away, coming up at a good pace, but I dont have to be told
who it is. I just looked back at Darl, setting there laughing.
"I done my best," I says. "I tried to do as she would wish it. The Lord
will pardon me and excuse the conduct of them He sent me." And Darl setting on
the plank seat right above her where she was laying, laughing.
He comes up the lane fast, yet we are three hundred yards beyond the mouth of it
when he turns into the road, the mud flying beneath the flicking drive of the
hooves. Then he slows a little, light and erect in the saddle, the horse mincing
through the mud.
Tull is in his lot. He looks at us, lifts his hand. We go on, the wagon
creaking, the mud whispering on the wheels. Vernon still stands there. He
watches Jewel as he passes, the horse moving with a light, high-kneed driving
gait, three hundred yards back. We go on, with a motion so soporific, so
dreamlike as to be uninferant of progress, as though time and not space were
decreasing between us and it.
It turns off at right angles, the wheel-marts of last Sunday healed away
now: a smooth, red scoriation curving away into the pines; a white signboard
with faded lettering: New Hope Church. 3 mi. It wheels up like a motionless hand
lifted above the profound desolation of the ocean; beyond it the red road lies
like a spoke of which Addie. Bundren. is the rim. It wheels past, empty,
unscarred, the white signboard turns away-its fading and tranquil assertion.
Cash, looks lip the road quietly, his bead turning as we pass It like an owls
head, his face composed. Pa looks straight ahead, humped. Dewey Dell looks at
the road too, then she looks back at me, her eyes watchful and repudiant, not
like that question which was in those of Cash, for a smoldering while. The
signboard passes; the unscarred road wheels on. Then Dewey Dell turns her head.
The wagon creaks on.
Cash spits over the wheel. "In a couple of days now it'll be smelling," he
"You might tell Jewel that," I say.
He is motionless now, sitting the horse at the function, upright, watching
us, no less still than the signboard that lifts its fading capitulation opposite
"It aint balanced right for no long ride," Cash says.
"Tell him that, too," I say. The wagon creaks on.
A mile further along he passes us, the horse, arch-necked, reined back to
a swift singlefoot. He sits lightly, poised, upright, wooden-faced in the
saddle, the broken hat raked at a swaggering angle. He passes us swiftly,
without looking at us, the horse driving, its hooves hissing in the mud. A gout
of mud, back-flung, plops onto the box. Cash leans forward and takes a tool from
his box and removes it carefully. When the road crosses Whiteleaf, the willows
leaning near enough, he breaks off a branch and scours at the stain with the wet
It's a hard country on man; it's hard. Eight miles of the sweat of his body
washed up outen the Lord's earth, where the Lord Himself told him to put it.
Nowhere in this sinful world can a honest, hardworking man profit. It takes them
that runs the stores in the towns, doing no sweating, living off of them that
sweats. It aint the hardworking man, the farmer. Sometimes I wonder why we keep
at it. It's because there is a reward for us above, where they cant take their
autos and such. Every man will be equal there and it will be taken from them
that have and give to them that have not by the Lord.
But it's a long wait, seems like. It's bad that a fellow must earn the
reward of his right-doing by flouting hisself and his dead. We drove all the
rest of the day and got to Samson's at dust-dark and then that bridge was gone,
too. They hadn't never see the river so high, and it not done raining yet There
was old men that hadn't never see nor hear of it being so in the memory of man.
I am the chosen of the Lord, for who He loveth, so doeth He chastiseth. But I be
durn if He dont take some curious ways to show it, seems like.
But now I can get them teeth. That will be a comfort. It will.
It was just before sundown. We were sitting on the porch when the wagon came up
the road with the five of them in it and the other one on the horse behind. One
of them raised his hand, but they was going on past the store without stopping.
"Who's that?" MacCallum says: I cant think of his name: Rate's twin; that
one it was.
It's Bundren, from down beyond New Hope," Quick says. "There's one of them
Snopes horses Jewel's riding."
"I didn't know there was ere a one of them horses left," MacCallum says.
"I thought you folks down there finally contrived to give them all away."
"Try and get that one," Quick says. The wagon went on.
"I bet old man Lon never gave it to him," I says.
"No," Quick says. "He bought it from pappy." The wagon went on. "They must
not a heard about the bridge," he says.
"What're they doing up here, anyway?" MacCallum says.
"Taking a holiday since he got his wife buried, I reckon," Quick says.
"Heading for town, I reckon, with Tull's bridge gone too. I wonder if they aint
heard about the bridge."
"They'll have to fly, then," I says. "I dont reckon there's ere a bridge
between here and Mouth of Ishatawa."
They had something in the wagon. But Quick had been to the funeral three
days ago and we naturally never thought anything about it except that they were
heading away from home mighty late and that they hadn't heard about the bridge.
"You better holler at them," MacCallum says. Durn it, the name is right on the
tip of my tongue. So Quick hollered and they stopped and he went to the wagon
and told them.
He come back with them. "They're going to Jefferson," he says. "The bridge
at Tull's is gone, too." Like we didn't know it, and his face looked funny,
around the nostrils, but they just sat there, Bundren and the girl and the chap
on the seat, and Cash and the second one, the one folks talks about, on a plank
across the tail-gate, and the other one on that spotted horse. But I reckon they
was used to it by then, because when I said to Cash that they'd have to pass by
New Hope again and what they'd better do, he just says,
"I reckon we can get there."
I aint much for meddling. Let every man run his own business to suit
himself, I say. But after I talked to Rachel about them not having a regular man
to fix her and it being July and all, I went back down to the barn and tried to
talk to Bundren about it.
"I give her my promise," he says. "Her mind was set on it."
I notice how it takes a lazy man, a man that hates moving, to get set on
moving once he does get started off, the same as he was set on staying still,
like it aint the moving he hates so much as the starting and the stopping. And
like he would be kind of proud of whatever come up to make the moving or the
setting still look hard. He set there on the wagon, hunched up, blinking,
listening to us tell about how quick the bridge went and how high the water was,
and I be durn if he didn't act like he was proud of it, like he had made the
river rise himself.
"You say it's higher than you ever see it before?" he says. "God's will be
done," he says. "I reckon it wont go down much by morning, neither," he says.
"You better stay here tonight," I says, "and get a early start for New
Hope tomorrow morning." I was just sorry for them bone-gaunted mules. I told
Rachel, I says, "Well, would you have had me turn them away at dark, eight miles
from home? What else could I do," I says. "It wont be but one night, and they'll
keep it in the barn, and they'll sholy get started by daylight." And so I says,
"You stay here tonight and early tomorrow you can go back to New Hope. I got
tools enough, and the boys can go on right after supper and have it dug and
ready if they want" and then I found that girl watching me. If her eyes had a
been pistols, I wouldn't be talking now. I be dog if they didn't blaze at me.
And so when I went down to the barn I come on them, her talking so she never
noticed when I come up.
"You promised her," she says. "She wouldn't go until you promised. She
thought she could depend on you. If you dont do it, it will be a curse on you."
"Cant no man say I dont aim to keep my word," Bundren says. "My heart is
open to ere a man."
"I dont care what your heart is," she says. She was whispering, kind of,
talking fast. "You promised her. You've got to. You--" then she seen me and
quit, standing there. If they'd been pistols, I wouldn't be talking now. So when
I talked to him about it, he says,
"I give her my promise. Her mind is set on it."
"But seems to me she'd rather have her ma buried close by, so she could--"
"It's Addie I give the promise to," he says. "Her mind is set on it."
So I told them to drive it into the barn, because it was threatening rain
again, and that supper was about ready. Only they didn't want to come in.
"I thank you," Bundren says. "We wouldn't discommode you. We got a little
something in the basket. We can make out."
"Well," I says, "since you are so particular about your womenfolks, I am
too. And when folks stops with us at meal time and wont come to the table, my
wife takes it as a insult."
So the girl went on to the kitchen to help Rachel. And then Jewel come to
"Sho," I says. "Help yourself outen the loft. Feed him when you bait the
"I ratter pay you for him," he says.
"What for?" I says. "I wouldn't begrudge no man a bait for his horse."
"I rather pay you," he says; I thought he said extra.
"Extra for what?" I says. "Wont he eat hay and corn?"
"Extra feed," he says. "I feed him a little extra and I dont want him
beholden to no man."
"You cant buy no feed from me, boy," I says. "And if he can eat that loft
clean, I'll help you load the ham onto the wagon in the morning."
"He aint never been beholden to no man," he says. "I rather pay you for
And if I had my rathers, you wouldn't be here a-tall, I wanted to say. But
I just says, "Then it's high time he commenced. You cant buy no feed from me."
When Rachel put supper on, her and the girl went and fixed some beds. But
wouldn't any of them come in. "She's been dead long enough to get over that sort
of foolishness," I says. Because I got just as much respect for the dead as ere
a man, but you've got to respect the dead themselves, and a woman that's been
dead in a box four days, the best way to respect her is to get her into the
ground as quick as you can. But they wouldn't do it.
"It wouldn't be right," Bundren says. "Course, if the boys wants to go to
bed, I reckon I can set up with her. I dont begrudge her it."
So when I went back down there they were squatting on the ground around
the wagon, all of them. "Let that chap come to the house and get some sleep,
anyway," I says. "And you better come too," I says to the girl. I wasn't aiming
to interfere with them. And I sholy hadn't done nothing to her that I knowed.
"He's done already asleep," Bundren says. They had done put him to bed in
the trough in a empty stall.
"Well, you come on, then," I says to her. But still she never said
nothing. They just squatted there. You couldn't hardly see them. "How about you
boys?" I says. "You got a full day tomorrow." After a while Cash says,
"I thank you. We can make out."
"We wouldn't be beholden," Bundren says. "I thank you kindly."
So I left them squatting there. I reckon after four days they was used to
it. But Rachel wasn't.
"It's a outrage," she says. "A outrage."
"What could he a done?" I says. "He give her his promised word."
"Who's talking about him?" she says. "Who cares about him?" she says,
crying. "I just wish that you and him and all the men in the world that torture
us alive and flout us dead, dragging us up and down the country--"
"Now, now," I says. "You're upset."
"Dont you touch me!" she says. "Dont you touch me!"
A man cant tell nothing about them. I lived with the same one fifteen
years and I be durn if I can. And I imagined a lot of things coming up between
us, but I be durn if I ever thought it would be a body four days dead and that a
woman. But they make life hard on them, not taking it as it comes up, like a man
So I laid there, hearing it commence to rain, thinking about them down
there, squatting around the wagon and the rain on the roof, and thinking about
Rachel crying there until after a while it was like I could still hear her
crying even after she was asleep, and smelling it even when I knowed I couldn't.
I couldn't decide even then whether I could or not, or if it wasn't just knowing
it was what it was.
So next morning I never went down there. I heard them hitching up and then
when I knowed they must be about ready to take out, I went out the front and
went down the road toward the bridge until I heard the wagon come out of the lot
and go back toward New Hope. And then when I come back to the house, Rachel
jumped on me because I wasn't there to make them come in to breakfast. You cant
tell about them. Just about when you decide they mean one tiling, I be durn if
you not only haven't got to change your mind, like as not you got to take a
rawhiding for thinking they meant it.
But it was still like I could smell it. And so I decided then that it
wasn't smelling it, but it was just knowing it was there, like you will get
fooled now and then. But when I went to the barn I knew different When I walked
into the hallway I saw something. It kind of hunkered up when I come in and I
thought at first it was one of them got left, then I saw what it was. It was a
buzzard. It looked around and saw me and went on down the hall, spraddle-legged,
with its wings kind of hunkered out, watching me first over one shoulder and
then over the other, like a old bald-headed man. When it got outdoors it begun
to fly. It had to fly a long time before it ever got up into the air, with it
thick and heavy and full of rain like it was.
If they was bent on going to Jefferson, I reckon they could have gone
around up by Mount Vernon, like MacCallum did. He'll get home about day after
tomorrow, horseback. Then they'd be just eighteen miles from town. But maybe
this bridge being gone too has learned him the Lord's sense and judgment.
That MacCallum. He's been trading with me off and on for twelve years. I
have known him from a boy up; know his name as well as I do my own. But be durn
if I can say it.
The signboard comes in sight. It is looking out at the road now, because it can
wait. New Hope. 3 mi. it will say. New Hope. 3 mi. New Hope. 3 mi. And then the
road will begin, curving away into the trees, empty with waiting, saying New
Hope three miles.
I heard that my mother is dead. I wish I had time to let her die. I wish I
had time to wish I had. It is because in the wild and outraged earth too soon
too soon too soon. It's not that I wouldn't and will not it's that it is too
soon too soon too soon.
Now it begins to say it. New Hope three miles. New Hope three miles.
That's what they mean by the womb of time: the agony and the despair of
spreading bones, the hard girdle in which lie the outraged entrails of events
Cash's head turns slowly as we approach, his pale empty sad composed and
questioning face following the red and empty curve; beside the bade wheel Jewel
sits the horse, gazing straight ahead.
The land runs out of Darl's eyes; they swim to pinpoints. They begin at my
feet and rise along my body to my face, and then my dress is gone: I sit naked
on the seat above the unhurrying mules, above the travail. Suppose I tell him
to turn. He will do what I say. Dont you know he will do what I say? Once I
waked with a black void rushing under me. I could not see. I saw Vardaman rise
and go to the window and strike the knife into the fish, the blood gushing,
hissing like steam but I could not see. He'll do as I say. He always does. I
can persuade him to anything. "You know I can. Suppose I say Turn here. That was
when I died that time. Suppose I do. We'll go to New Hope. We wont have to go
to town. I rose and took the knife from the streaming fish still hissing and
I killed Darl.
When I used to sleep with Vardaman I had a nightmare once I thought I was
awake but I couldn't see and couldn't feel I couldn't feel the bed under me and
I couldn't think what I was I couldn't think of my name I couldn't even think I
am a girl I couldn't even think I nor even think I want to wake up nor remember
what was opposite to awake so I could do that I knew that something was passing
but I couldn't even think of time then all of a sudden I knew that something
was it was wind blowing over me it was like the wind came and blew me back from
where it was I was not blowing the room and Vardaman asleep and all of them
back, under me again and going on like a piece of cool silk dragging across my
It blows cool out of the pines, a sad steady sound. New Hope. Was 3 mi.
Was 3 mi. I believe in God I believe in God.
"Why didn't we go to New Hope, pa?" Vardaman says. "Mr Samson said we was,
but we done passed the road."
Darl says, "Look, Jewel." But He is not looking at me. He is looking at
the sky. He buzzard is as still as if He were nailed to it.
We turn into Tull's lane. We pass the barn and go on, the wheels
whispering in the mud, passing the green rows of cotton in the wild earth, and
Vernon little across the field behind the plow. He lifts his hand as we pass and
stands there looking after us for a long while.
"Look, Jewel," Darl says. Jewel sits on his horse like they were both made
out of wood, looking straight ahead.
I believe in God, God. God, I believe in God.
After they passed I taken the mule out and looped up the trace chains and
followed. They was setting in the wagon at the end of the levee when I caught up
with them. Anse was setting there, looking at the bridge where it was swagged
down into the river with just the two ends in sight. He was looking at it like
he had believed all the time that folks had been lying to him about it being
gone, but like he was hoping all the time it really was. Kind of pleased
astonishment he looked, setting on the wagon in his Sunday pants, mumbling his
mouth. Looking like a uncurried horse dressed up: I dont know.
The boy was watching the bridge where it was mid-sunk and logs and such
drifted up over it and it swagging and shivering like the whole thing would go
any minute, big-eyed he was watching it, like he was to a circus. And the gal
too. When I come up she looked around at me, her eyes kind of blaring up and
going hard like I had made to touch her. Then she looked at Anse again and then
back at the water again.
It was nigh up to the levee on both sides, the earth hid except for the
tongue of it we was on going out to the bridge and then down into the water, and
except for knowing how the road and the bridge used to look, a fellow couldn't
tell where was the river and where the land. It was just a tangle of yellow and
the levee not less wider than a knife-back land of, with us setting in the wagon
and on the horse and the mule.
Darl was looking at me, and then Cash turned and looked at me with that
look in his eyes like when he was figuring on whether the planks would fit her
that night, like he was measuring them inside of him and not asking you to say
what you thought and not even letting on he was listening if you did say it, but
listening all right. Jewel hadn't moved. He sat there on the horse, leaning a
little forward, with that same look on his face when him and Darl passed the
house yesterday, coming back to get her.
"If it was just up, we could drive across," Anse says, "We could drive
right on across it."
Sometimes a log would get shoved over the jam and float on, rolling and
turning, and we could watch it go on to where the ford used to be. It would slow
up and whirl crossways and hang out of water for a minute, and you could tell by
that that the ford used to be there.
"But that dont show nothing," I say. It could he a bar of quicksand built
up there." We watch the log. Then the gal is looking at me again.
"Mr Whitfield crossed it," she says.
"He was a-horseback," I say. "And three days ago. Its riz five foot
"If the bridge was just up," Anse says.
The log bobs up and goes on again. There is a lot of trash and foam, and
you can hear the water.
"But its down," Anse says.
Cash says, "A careful fellow could walk across yonder on the planks and
"But you couldn't tote nothing," I say. "Likely time you set foot on that
mess, it'll all go, too. What you think, Darl?"
He is looking at me. He dont say nothing; just looks at me with them queer
eyes of hisn that makes folks talk. I always say it aint never been what he done
so much or said or anything so much as how he looks at you. It's like he had got
into the inside of you, someway. Like somehow you was looking at yourself and
your doings outen his eyes. Then I can feel that gal watching me like I had made
to touch her. She says something to Anse. ". . . Mr Whitfield . .." she says.
"I give her my promised word in the presence of the Lord," Anse says. "I
reckon it aint no need to worry."
But still he does not start the mules. We set there above the water.
Another log bobs up over the jam and goes on; we watch it check up and swing
slow for a minute where the ford used to be. Then it goes on.
"It might start falling tonight," I say. "You could lay over one more
Then Jewel turns sideways on the horse. He has not moved until then, and
he turns and looks at me. His face is kind of green, then it would go red and
then green again. "Get to hell on back to your damn plowing," he says. "Who the
hell asked you to follow us here?"
"I never meant no harm," I say.
"Shut up, Jewel," Cash says. Jewel looks back at the water, his face
gritted, going red and green and then red. "Well," Cash says after a while,
"what you want to do?"
Anse dont say nothing. He sets humped up, mumbling his mouth. "If it was
just up, we could drive across it," he says.
"Come on," Jewel says, moving the horse.
"Wait," Cash says. He looks at the bridge. We look at him, except Anse and the
gal. They are looking at the water. "Dewey Dell and Vardaman and pa better walk
across on the bridge," Cash says.
"Vernon can help them," Jewel says. "And we can hitch his mule ahead of
"You aint going to take my mule into that water," I say.
Jewel looks at me. His eyes look like pieces of a broken plate. I'll pay
for your damn mule. I'll buy it from you right now."
"My mule aint going into that water," I say.
"Jewel's going to use his horse," Darl says. "Why wont you risk your mule,
"Shut up, Darl," Cash says. "You and Jewel both."
"My mule aint going into that water," I say.
He sits the horse, glaring at Vernon, his lean face suffused up to and beyond
the pale rigidity of his eyes. The summer when he was fifteen, he took a spell
of sleeping. One morning when I went to feed the mules the cows were still in
the tie-up and then I heard pa go back to the house and call him. When we came
on back to the house for breakfast he passed us, carrying the milk buckets,
stumbling along like he was drunk, and he was milking when we put the mules in
and went on to the field without him. We had been there an hour and still he
never showed up. When Dewey Dell came with our lunch, pa sent her back to find
Jewel. They found him in the tie-up, sitting on the stool, asleep.
After that, every morning pa would go in and wake him. He would go to
sleep at die supper table and soon as supper was finished he would go to bed,
and when I came in to bed he would be lying there like a dead man. Yet still pa
would have to wake him in the morning. He would get up, but he wouldn't hardly
have half sense: he would stand for pa's jawing and complaining without a word
and take the milk buckets and go to the barn, and once I found him asleep at the
cow, the bucket in place and half full and his hands up to the wrists in the
milk and his head against the cow's flank.
After that Dewey Dell had to do the milking. He still got up when pa waked
him, going about what we told him to do in that dazed way. It was like he was
trying hard to do them; that he was as puzzled as anyone else.
"Are you sick?" ma said. "Dont you feel all right?"
"Yes," Jewel said. "I feel all right."
"He's just lazy, trying me," pa said, and Jewel standing there, asleep on
his feet like as not. "Aint you?" he said, waking Jewel up again to answer.
"No," Jewel said.
"You take off and stay in the house today," ma said.
"With that whole bottom piece to be busted out?" pa said. 'If you aint
sick, what's the matter with you?"
"Nothing," Jewel said. "I'm all right."
"All right?" pa said. "You're asleep on your feet this minute."
"No," Jewel said. "I'm all right."
"I want him to stay at home today," ma said.
"Ill need him," pa said. "It's tight enough, with all of us to do it."
"You'll just have to do the best you can with Cash and Darl," ma said. "I
want him to stay in today."
But he wouldn't do it. "I'm all right," he said, going on. But he wasn't
all right. Anybody could see it. He was losing flesh, and I have seen him go to
sleep chopping; watched the hoe going slower and slower up and down, with less
and less of an arc, until it stopped and he leaning on it motionless in the hot
shimmer of the sun.
Ma wanted to get the doctor, but pa didn't want to spend the money without
it was needful, and Jewel did seem all right except for his thinness and his way
of dropping off to sleep at any moment. He ate hearty enough, except for his way
of going to sleep in his plate, with a piece of bread halfway to his mouth and
his jaws still chewing. But he swore he was all right.
It was ma that got Dewey Dell to do his milking, paid her somehow, and the
other jobs around the house that Jewel had been doing before supper she found
some way for Dewey Dell and Vardaman to do them. And doing them herself when pa
wasn't there. She would fix him special things to eat and hide them for him. And
that may have been when I first found it out, that Addie Bundren should be
hiding anything she did, who had tried to teach us that deceit was such that, in
a world where it was, nothing else could be very bad or very important, not even
poverty. And at times when I went in to go to bed she would be sitting in the
dark by Jewel where he was asleep. And I knew that she was hating herself for
that deceit and hating Jewel because she had to love him so that she had to act
One night she was taken sick and when I went to the barn to put the team
in and drive to Tull's, I couldn't find the lantern. I remembered noticing it on
the nail the night before, but it wasn't there now at midnight. So I hitched in
the dark and went on and came back with Mrs Tull just after daylight. And there
the lantern was, hanging on the nail where I remembered it and couldn't find it
before. And then one morning while Dewey Dell was milking just before sunup,
Jewel came into the barn from the back, through the hole in the back wall, with
the lantern in his hand.
I told Cash, and Cash and I looked at one another.
"Rutting," Cash said.
"Yes," I said. "But why the lantern? And every night, too. No wonder he's
losing flesh. Are you going to say anything to him?"
"Wont do any good," Cash said.
"What he's doing now wont do any good, either."
"I know. But he'll have to learn that himself. Give him time to realise
that it'll save, that there'll be just as much more tomorrow, and he'll be all
right. I wouldn't tell anybody, I reckon."
"No," I said. "I told Dewey Dell not to. Not ma, anyway."
"No. Not ma."
After that I thought it was right comical: he acting so bewildered and
willing and dead for sleep and gaunt as a bean-pole, and thinking he was so
smart with it. And I wondered who the girl was. I thought of all I knew that it
might be, but I couldn't say for sure.
"Taint any girl," Cash said. "It's a married woman somewhere. Aint any
young girl got that much daring and staying power. That's what I dont like about
"Why?" I said. "She'll be safer for him than a girl would. More judgment."
He looked at me, his eyes fumbling, the words fumbling at what he was
trying to say. "It aint always the safe things in this world that a fellow . . .
"You mean, the safe things are not always the best things?"
"Ay; best," he said, fumbling again. "It aint the best things, the things
that are good for him ... A young boy. A fellow kind of hates to see . . .
wallowing in somebody else's mire . . ." That's what he was trying to say. When
something is new and hard and bright, there ought to be something a little
better for it than just being safe; since the safe things are just the things
that folks have been doing so long they have worn the edges off and there's
nothing to the doing of them that leaves a man to say, That was not done before
and it cannot be done again.
So we didn't tell, not even when after a while he'd appear suddenly in the
field beside us and go to work, without having had time to get home and make out
he had been in bed all night. He would tell ma that he hadn't been hungry at
breakfast or that he had eaten a piece of bread while he was hitching up theteam.
But Cash and I knew that he hadn't been home at all on those nights and he
had come up out of the woods when we got to the field. But we didn't tell.
Summer was almost over then; we knew that when the nights began to get cool, she
would be done if he wasn't.
But when fall came and the nights began to get longer, the only difference
was that he would always be in bed for pa to wake him, getting him up at last in
that first state of semi-idiocy like when it first started, worse than when he
had stayed out all night.
"She's sure a stayer," I told Cash. "I used to admire her, but I downright
respect her now."
"It aint a woman," he said.
"You know," I said. But he was watching me. "What is it, then?"
"That's what I aim to find out," he said.
"You can trail him through the woods all night if you want to," I said.
"I aint trailing him," he said.
"What do you call it, then?"
"I aint trailing him," he said. I dont mean it that way."
And so a few nights later I heard Jewel get up and climb out the window,
and then I heard Cash get up and follow him. The next morning when I went to the
barn, Cash was already there, the mules fed, and he was helping Dewey Dell milk.
And when I saw him I knew that he knew what it was. Now and then I would catch
him watching Jewel with a queer look, like having found out where Jewel went and
what he was doing had given him something to really think about at last. But it
was not a worried look; it was the kind of look I would see on him when I would
find him doing some of Jewel's work around the house, work that pa still thought
Jewel was doing and that ma thought Dewey Dell was doing. So I said nothing to
him, believing that when he got done digesting it in his mind, he would tell me.
But he never did.
One morning-it was November then, five months since it started-Jewel was
not in bed and he didn't join us in the field. That was the first time ma
learned anything about what had been going on. She sent Vardaman down to find
where Jewel was, and after a while she came down too. It was as though, so long
as the deceit ran along quiet and monotonous, all of us let ourselves be
deceived, abetting it unawares or maybe through cowardice, since all people are
cowards and naturally prefer any kind of treachery because it has a bland
outside. But now it was like we had all--and by a kind of telepathic agreement
of admitted fear— flung the whole thing back like covers on the bed and we all
sitting bolt upright in our nakedness, staring at one another arid saying "Now
is the truth. He hasn't come home. Something has happened to him. We let
something happen to him."
Then we saw him. He came up along the ditch and then turned straight
across the field, riding the horse. Its mane and tail were going, as though in
motion they were carrying out the splotchy pattern of its coat: he looked like
he was riding on a big pinwheel, bare-hacked, with a rope bridle, and no hat on
his head. It was a descendant of those Texas ponies Flem Snopes brought here
twenty-five years ago and auctioned off for two dollars a head and nobody but
old Lon Quick ever caught his and still owned some of the blood because he could
never give it away.
He galloped up and stopped, his heels in the horse's ribs and it dancing
and swirling like the shape of its: mane and tail and the splotches of its coat
had nothing whatever to do with the flesh-and-bone horse inside them, and he sat
there, looking at us.
"Where did you get that horse?" pa said.
"Bought it," Jewel said. "From Mr Quick."
"Bought it?" pa said. "With what? Did you buy that thing on my word?"
"It was my money," Jewel said. "I earned it. You wont need to worry about
"Jewel," ma said; "Jewel."
"It's all right," Cash said. "He earned the money, He cleaned up that
forty acres of new ground Quick laid out last spring. He did it single handed,
working at night by lantern. I saw him. So I dont reckon that horse cost anybody
anything except Jewel. I dont reckon we need worry."
"Jewel," ma said. "Jewel . . ." Then she said: "You come right to the
house and go to bed."
"Not yet," Jewel said. "I aint got time. I got to get me a saddle and
bridle. Mr Quick says he .,. ."
"Jewel," ma said, looking at him. I'll give—I'll give. . .give . . ."
Then she began to cry. She cried hard, not hiding her face, standing there in
her faded wrapper, looking at him and him on the horse, looking down at her, his
face growing cold and a little sick looking, until he looked away quick and Cash
came and touched her.
"You go on to the house," Cash said. "This here ground is too wet for you.
You go on, now." She put her hands to her face then and after a while she went
on, stumbling a little on the plow-marks. But pretty soon she straightened up
and went on, She didn't look back. When she reached the ditch she stopped and
called Vardaman. He was looking at the horse, land of dancing up and down by it.
"Let me ride, Jewel," he said. "Let me ride, Jewel."
Jewel looked at him, then he looked away again, holding the horse reined
back. Pa watched him, mumbling his lip.
"So you bought a horse," he said. "You went behind my back and bought a
horse. You never consulted me; you know how tight it is for us to make by, yet
you bought a horse for me to feed. Taken the work from your flesh and blood and
bought a horse with it." Jewel looked at pa, his eyes paler than ever. "He wont
never eat a mouthful of yours," he said. "Not a mouthful. Ill kill him first.
Dont you never think it. Dont you never."
"Let me ride, Jewel," Vardaman said. "Let me ride, Jewel." He sounded like
a cricket in the grass, a little one. "Let me ride, Jewel."
That night I found ma sitting beside the bed where he was sleeping, in the
dark. She cried hard, maybe because she had to cry so quiet; maybe because she
felt the same way about tears she did about deceit, hating herself for doing it,
hating him because she had to. And then I knew that I knew. I knew that as plain
on that day as I knew about Dewey Dell on that day.
So they finally got Anse to say what he wanted to do, and him and the gal and
the boy got out of the wagon. But even when we were on the bridge Anse kept on
looking back, like he thought maybe, once he was outen the wagon, the whole
thing would kind of blow Tip and he would find himself back yonder in the field
again and her laying up there in the house, waiting to die and it to do all over
"You ought to let them taken your mule," he says, and the bridge shaking
and swaying under us, going down into the moiling water like it went down
through to the other side of the earth, and the other end coming up outen the
water like it wasn't the same bridge a-tall and that them that would walk up
outen the water on that side must come from the bottom of the earth. But it was
still whole; you could tell that by the way when this end swagged, it didn't
look like the other end swagged at all: just like the other trees and the bank
yonder were swinging back and forth slow like on a big clock. And them logs
scraping and Bumping at the sunk part and tilting end-up and shooting clean
outen the water and tumbling on toward the ford and the waiting, slick,
whirling, and foamy.
"What good would that a done?" I says. If your team cant find the ford and
haul it across, what good would three mules or even ten mules do?"
"I aint asking it of you," he says. "I can always do for me and mine. I
aint asking you to risk your mule. It aint your dead; I am not blaming you."
"They ought to went back and laid over until tomorrow," I says. The water
was cold. It was thick, like slush ice. Only it kind of lived. One part of you
knowed it was just water, the same thing that had been running under this same
bridge for a long time, yet when them logs would come spewing up outen it, you
were not surprised, like they was a part of water, of the waiting and the
It was like when we was across, up out of the water again and the hard
earth under us, that I was surprised. It was like we hadn't expected the bridge
to end on the other bank, on something tame like the hard earth again that we
had tromped on before this time and knowed well. Like it couldn't be me here,
because I'd have had better sense than to done what I just done. And when I
looked back and saw the other bank and saw my mule standing there where I used
to be and knew that I'd have to get back there someway, I knew it couldn't be,
became I just think of anything that could make me cross bridge ever even once.
Yet here I was, and the fellow that could make himself cross it twice, couldn't
be met, not even if Cora told him to.
It was that boy. I said "Here; you better take a holt of my hand" and he
waited and held to me. I be dam if it wasn't Wee he come back and got me? like
he -was saying They wont nothing hurt you; Like he was saying about a fine place
he knowed, where Christmas come twice with Thanksgiving and lasts on through the
winter and the spring and the summer, had all just stayed with him I'd be all
When I looked back at my mule it was like he was one of these here spyglasses
and I could look at him standing there and see all the broad land and my
house sweated outen it like & was the more the sweaty the broader the land; the
more the sweat, the tighter the house because it would take a tight house for
Cora, to hold Cora like a jar of milk in the spring; you've got to have a tight
jar oaf you'll need a powerful spring, so if you have a big spring, why dies,
you have the incentive to have tight, wellmade jars, because it is your milk,
soar or not, because you would lather have milk that will sour than to have milk
that wont, because you are a man.
And him holding to my hand, his hand that hot and confident; so that I was
like to say: Look-a-here. Cant you see that mule yonder? He never had no
business over here, so he never come, not being nothing but a mule. Because a
fellow can see ever now and then that children have more sense than him. But he
dont like to admit it to them until they have beards. After they have a beard,
they are too busy because they dont know it they'll ever quite make it back to
where they were in sense before they was haired, so you dont mind admitting then
to folks that are worrying about the same thing that aint worth the worry that
you are yourself.
Then we was over and we stood there, looking at Cash turning the wagon
around. We watched them drive back down the road to where the trail tamed oil
into the bottom. After a while the wagon was out of sight.
"We better get on down to the ford and git ready to help," I said.
"I give her my word," Anse says. "It is sacred on me. I know you begrudge
it, but she will bless you in heaven."
"Well, they got to finish circumventing the land before they can dare the
water," I said. "Come on."
"It's the turning back," he said. "It aint no luck in turning back."
He was standing there, humped, mournful, looking at the empty road beyond
the swagging and swaying bridge. And that gal, too, with the lunch basket on one
arm and that package under the other. Just going to town. Bent on it. They would
risk the fire and the earth and the water and all just to eat a sack of bananas.
"You ought to laid over a day," I said. It would a fell some by morning. It
mought not a rained tonight. And it cant get no higher."
"I give my promise," he says. "She is counting on it."
Before us the thick dark current runs. It talks up to us in a murmur become
ceaseless and myriad, the yellow surface dimpled monstrously into fading swirls
travelling along the surface for an instant, silent, impermanent and profoundly
significant, as though just beneath the surface something huge and alive waked
for a moment of lazy alertness out of and into light slumber again.
It clucks and murmurs among the spokes and about the mules' knees, yellow,
skummed with flotsam and with thick soiled gouts of foam as though it had sweat,
lathering, like a driven horse. Through the undergrowth it goes with a plaintive
sound, a musing sound; in it the unwinded cane and saplings lean as before a
little gale, swaying without reflections as though suspended on invisible wires
from the branches overhead. Above the ceaseless surface they stand-trees, cane,
vines-rootless, severed from the earth, spectral above a scene of immense yet
circumscribed desolation filled with the voice of the waste and mournful water.
Cash and I sit in the wagon; Jewel sits the horse at the off rear wheel.
The horse is trembling, its eye rolling wild and baby-blue in its long pink
face, its breathing stertorous like groaning. He sits erect, poised, looking
quietly and steadily and quickly this way and that, his face calm, a little
pale, alert. Cash's face is also gravely composed; he and I look at one another
with long probing looks, looks that plunge unimpeded through one another's eyes
and into the ultimate secret place where for an instant Cash and Darl crouch
flagrant and unabashed in all the old terror and the old foreboding, alert and
secret and without shame. When we speak our voices are quiet, detached.
"I reckon we're still in the road, all right."
"Tull taken and cut them two big whiteoaks. I heard tell how at high water
in the old days they used to line up the ford by them trees."
"I reckon he did that two years ago when he was logging down here. I
reckon he never thought that anybody would ever use this ford again."
"I reckon not. Yes, it must have been then. He cut a sight of timber outen
here then. Payed off that mortgage with it, I hear tell."
"Yes. Yes, I reckon so. I reckon Vernon could have done that."
"That's a fact. Most folks that logs in this here country, they need a
durn good farm to support the sawmill. Or maybe a store. But I reckon Vernon
"I reckon so. He's a sight."
"Ay. Vernon is. Yes, it must still be here. He never would have got that
timber out of here if he hadn't cleaned out that old road. I reckon we are still
on it." He looks about quietly, at the position of the trees, leaning this way
and that, looking back along the floorless road shaped vaguely high in air by
the position of the lopped and felled trees, as if the road too had been soaked
free of earth and floated upward, to leave in its spectral tracing a monument to
a still more profound desolation than this above which we now sit, talking
quietly of old security and old trivial things. Jewel looks at him, then at me,
then his face turns in in that quiet; constant, questing about the scene, the
horse trembling quietly and steadily between his knees.
"He could go on ahead slow and sort of feel it out," I say.
"Yes," Cash says, not looking at me. His face is in profile as he looks
forward where Jewel has moved on ahead.
"He cant miss the river," I say. "He couldn't miss seeing it fifty yards
Cash does not look at me, his face in profile, "If I'd just suspicioned
it, I could a come down last week and taken a sight on it."
"The bridge was up then," I say. He does not look at me. "Whitfield
crossed it a-horseback."
Jewel looks at us again, his expression sober and alert and subdued. His
voice is quiet. "What you want me to do?"
"I ought to come down last week and taken a sight on it," Cash says.
"We couldn't have known," I say. "There wasn't any way for us to know."
"I'll ride on ahead," Jewel says. "You can follow where I am." He lifts
the horse. It shrinks, bowed; he leans to it, speaking to it, lifting it forward
almost bodily, it setting its feet down with gingerly splashings, trembling,
breathing harshly. He speaks to it, murmurs to it. "Go on," he says. "I aint
going to let nothing hurt you. Go on, now."
"Jewel," Cash says. Jewel does not look back. He lifts the horse on.
"He can swim," I say. "If he'll just give the horse time, anyhow . . ."
When he was born, he had a bad time of it Ma would sit in the lamp-light,
holding him on a pillow on her lap. We would wake and find her so. There would
be no sound from them.
"That pillow was longer than him," Cash says. He is leaning a little
forward, "I ought to come down last week and sighted. I ought to done it."
"That's right," I say. "Neither his feet nor his head would reach the end
of it. You couldn't have known." I say.
"I ought to done it," he says. He lifts the reins. The mules move, into
the traces; the wheels murmur alive in the water. He looks back and down at
Addie. "It aint on a balance," he says.
At last the trees open; against the open river Jewel sits the horse, half
turned, it belly deep now. Across the river we can see Vernon and pa and
Vardaman and Dewey Dell Vernon is waving at us, waving us further down stream.
"We are too high up," Cash says. Vernon is shouting too, but we cannot
make out what he says for tie noise of the water. It runs steady and deep now,
tin-broken, without sense of motion until a log comes along, turning slowly.
"Watch it," Cash says. We watch it and see it falter and hang for a moment, the
current building up behind it in a thick wave, submerging it for an instant
before it shoots up and tumbles on.
"There it is," I say.
"Ay," Cash says. It's there." We look at Vernon again. He is now flapping
his arms up and down. We move on downstream, slowly and carefully, watching
Vernon. He drops his hands. "This is the place," Cash says.
"Well, goddamn it, let's get across, then," Jewel says, He moves the horse
"You wait," Cash says. Jewel stops again.
"Well, by God--" he says. Cash looks at the water, then he looks back at
Addie. "It aint on a balance," he says.
"Then go on back to the goddamn bridge and walk across," Jewel says. "You
and Darl both. Let me on that wagon."
Cash does not pay him any attention. It aint on a balance," he says. "Yes,
sir. We got to watch it."
"Watch it, hell," Jewel says. "You get out of that wagon and let me have
it. By God, if you're afraid to drive it over . . ." His eyes are pale as two
bleached chips in his face. Cash is looking at him.
"We'll get it over," he says. "I tell you what you do. You ride on back
and walk across the bridge and come down the other bank and meet us with the
rope. Vernon'll take your horse home with him and keep it till we get back."
"You go to hell," Jewel says.
"You take the rope and come down the bank and be ready with it," Cash
says. "Three cant do no more than two can-one to drive and one to steady it."
"Goddamn you," Jewel says.
"Let Jewel take the end of the rope and cross upstream of us and brace
it," I say. "Will you do that, Jewel?"
Jewel watches me, hard. He looks quick at Cash, then back at me, his eyes
alert and hard. "I dont give a damn. Just so we do something. Setting here, not
lifting a goddamn hand ..."
"Let's do that, Cash," I say.
"I reckon we'll have to," Cash says.
The river itself is not a hundred yards across, and pa and Vernon and
Vardaman and Dewey Dell are the only things in sight not of that single monotony
of desolation leaning with, that terrific quality a little from right to left,
as though we had reached the place where the motion of the wasted world
accelerates just before the final precipice. Yet they appear dwarfed. It is as
though the space between us were time: an irrevocable quality. It is as though
time, no longer running straight before us in a diminishing line, now runs
parallel between us like a looping string, tie distance being the doubling
accretion of the thread and not the interval between. The mules stand, their
fore quarters already sloped a little, their romps high. They too are breathing
now with a deep groaning sound; looking back once, their gaze sweeps across us
with in their eyes a wild, sad, profound and despairing quality as though they
had already seen in the thick water the shape of the disaster which they could
not speak and we could not see.
Cash turns back into the wagon. He lays his hands flat on Addie, rocking
her a little. His face is calm, down-sloped, calculant, concerned. He lifts his
box of tools and wedges it forward tinder the seat; together we shove Addie
forward, wedging her between the tools and the wagon bed. Then he looks at me.
"No," I say. "I reckon I'll stay. Might take both of us."
From the tool box he takes his coiled rope and carries the end twice
around the seat stanchion and passes the end to me without tying it. The other
end he pays out to Jewel, who takes a turn about his saddle horn.
He must force the horse down into the current. It moves, highkneed,
archnecked, boring and chafing. Jewel sits lightly forward, his knees lifted a
little; again his swift alert calm gaze sweeps upon us and on. He lowers the
horse into the stream, speaking to it in a soothing murmur. The horse slips,
goes under to the saddle, surges to its feet again, the current building up
against Jewel's thighs.
"Watch yourself," Cash says.
"I'm on it now," Jewel says. "You can come ahead now."
Cash takes the reins and lowers the team carefully and skillfully into the
/ felt the current take us and I knew we were on the ford by that reason,
since it was only by means of that slipping contact that we could tell that we
were in motion at all. What had once been a -flat surface was now a succession
of troughs and hillocks lifting and falling about us, shoving at us, teasing at
us with light lazy touches in the vain instants of solidity underfoot. Cash
looked back at me, and then I knew that we were gone. But I did not realise the
reason for the rope until I saw the log. It surged up out of the water and
stood for an instant upright upon that surging and heaving desolation like
Christ. Get out and let the current take you down to the bend, Cash said. You
can make it all right. No, I said, I'd get just as wet that way as this
The log appears suddenly between two hills, as if it had rocketed suddenly
from the bottom of the river. Upon the end of it a long gout of foam hangs like
the beard of an old man or a goat. When Cash speaks to me I know that he has
been watching it all the time, watching it and watching Jewel ten feet ahead of
us. "Let the rope go," he says. With his other hand he reaches down and reeves
the two turns from the stanchion. "Ride on, Jewel," he says; "see if you can
pull us ahead of the log."
Jewel shouts at the horse; again he appears to lift it bodily between his
knees. He is just above the top of the ford and the horse has a purchase of some
sort for it surges forward, shining wetly half out of water, crashing on in a
succession of lunges. It moves unbelievably fast; by that token Jewel realises
at last that the rope is free, for I can see him sawing back on the reins, his
head turned, as the log rears in a long sluggish lunge between us, bearing down
upon the team. They see it too; for a moment they also shine black out of water.
Then the downstream one vanishes, dragging the other with him; the wagon sheers
crosswise, poised on the crest of the ford as the log strikes it, tilting it up
and on. Cash is half turned, the reins running taut from his hand and
disappearing into the water, the other hand reached back upon Addie, holding her
jammed over against the high side of the wagon. "Jump clear," he says quietly.
"Stay away from the team and dont try to fight it. It'll swing you into the bend
"You come too," I say. Vernon and Vardaman are running along the bank, pa
and Dewey Dell stand watching us, Dewey Dell with the basket and the package in
her arms. Jewel is trying to fight the horse back. The head of one mule appears,
its eyes wide; it looks back at us for an instant, making a sound almost human.
The head vanishes again.
"Back, Jewel," Cash shouts. "Back, Jewel." For another instant I see him
leaning to the tilting wagon, his arm braced back against Addie and his tools; I
see the bearded head of the rearing log strike up again, and beyond it Jewel
holding the horse upreared, its head wrenched around, hammering its head with
his fist. I jump from the wagon on the downstream side. Between two hills I see
the mules once more. They roll up out of the water in succession, turning
completely over, their legs stiffly extended as when they had lost contact with
Cash tried but she fell off and Darl jumped going under he went under and Cash
hollering to catch her and I hollering running and hollering and Dewey Dell
hollering at me Vardaman you Vardaman you Vardaman and Vernon passed me because
he was seeing her come up and she jumped into the water again and Darl hadn't
caught her yet
He came up to see and I hollering catch her Darl catch her and he didn't
come back because she was too heavy he had to go on catching at her and I
hollering catch her darl catch her darl because in the water she could go faster
than a man and Darl had to grabble for her so I knew he could catch her because
he is the best grabbler even with the mules in the way again they dived up
rolling their feet stiff rolling down again and their backs up now and Darl had
to again because in the water she could go faster than a man or woman and I
passed Vernon and be wouldn't get in the water and help Darl he wouldn't grabble
for her with Darl he knew but he wouldn't help
The mules dived up again diving their legs stiff their stiff legs rolling
slow and then Darl again and I hollering catch her darl catch her head her into
the bank darl and Vernon wouldn't help and then Darl dodged past the mules where
he could he had her under the water coming in to the bank coming in slow because
in the water she fought to stay under the water but Darl is strong and he was
coming in slow and so I knew he had her because he came slow and I ran down into
the water to help and I couldn't stop hollering because Darl was strong and
steady holding her under the water even if she did fight he would not let her go
he was seeing me and he would hold her and it was all right now it was all right
now it was all right
Then he comes up out of the water. He comes a long way up slow before his
hands do but he's got to have her got to so I can bear it. Then his hands come
up and all of him above the water. I cant stop. I have not got "time to try. I
will try to when I can but his hands came empty out of the water emptying the
water emptying away
"Where is ma, Darl?" I said. "You never got her. You knew she is a fish
but you let her get away. You never got her. Darl. Darl. Darl." I began to run
along the bank, watching the mules dive up slow again and then down again.
When I told Cora how Darl jumped out of the wagon and left Cash sitting there
trying to save it and the wagon turning over, and Jewel that was almost to the
hank fighting that horse back where it had more sense than to go, she says "And
you're one of the folks that says Darl is the queer one, the one that aint
bright; and him the only one of them that had sense enough to get off that
wagon. I notice Anse was too smart to been on it a-tall."
"He couldn't a done no good, if he'd been there," I said. "They was going
about it right and they would have made it if it hadn't a been for that log."
"Log, fiddlesticks," Cora said. "It was the hand of God."
"Then how can you say it was foolish?" I said. "Nobody cant guard against
the hand of God. It would be sacrilege to try to."
"Then why dare it?" Cora says. "Tell me that."
"Anse didn't." I said. "That's just what you faulted him for."
"His place was there," Cora said. "If he had been a man, he would a been
there instead of making his sons do what he dursn't."
"I dont know what you want, then," I said. "One breath you say they was
daring the hand of God to try it, and the next breath you jump on Anse because
he wasn't with them." Then she begun to sing again, working at the washtub, with
that singing look in her face like she had done give up folks and all their
foolishness and had done went on ahead of them, marching up the sky, singing.
The wagon hung for a long time while the current built up under it,
shoving it off the ford, and Cash leaning more and more, trying to keep the
coffin braced so it wouldn't slip down and finish tilting the wagon over. Soon
as the wagon got tilted good, to where the current could finish it, the log went
on. It headed around the wagon and went on good as a swimming man could have
done. It was like it had been sent there to do a job and done it and went on.
When the mules finally kicked loose, it looked for a minute hike maybe
Cash would get the wagon back, It looked like him and the wagon wasn't moving at
all, and just Jewel fighting that horse back to the wagon. Then that boy passed
me, running and hollering at Darl and the gal trying to catch him, and then I
see the mules come rolling slow up out of the water, their legs spraddled stiff
like they had balked upside down, and roll on into the water again.
Then the wagon tilted over and then it and Jewel and the horse was all
mixed up together. Cash went outen sight, still holding the coffin braced, and
then I couldn't tell anything for the horse lunging and splashing. I thought
that Cash had give up then and was swimming for it and I was yelling at Jewel to
come on back and then all of a sudden him and the horse went under too and I
thought they was all going. I knew that the horse had got dragged off the ford
too, and with that wild drowning horse and that wagon and that loose box, it was
going to be pretty bad, and there I was, standing knee-deep in the water,
yelling at Anse behind me: "See what you done now? See what you done now?"
The horse come up again. It was headed for the hank now, throwing its head
up, and then I saw one of them holding to the saddle on the downstream side, so
I started running along the bank, trying to catch sight of Cash because, he
couldn't swim, yelling at Jewel where Cash was like a durn fool, bad as that boy
that was on down the bank still hollering at Darl.
So I went down into the water so I could still keep some kind of a grip in
the mud, when I saw Jewel. He was middle deep, so I knew he was on the ford,
anyway, leaning hard upstream, and then I see the rope, and then I see the water
building up where he was holding the wagon snubbed just below the ford.
So it was Cash holding to the horse when it come splashing and scrambling
up the bank, moaning and groaning like a natural man. When I come to it it was
just kicking Cash loose from his holt on the saddle. His face turned up a second
when he was sliding back into the water. It was gray, with his eyes closed and a
long swipe of mud across his face. Then he let go and turned over in the water.
He looked just like a old bundle of clothes kind of washing up and down against
the bank. He looked like he was laying there in the water on his face, rocking
up and down a little, looking at something on the bottom.
We could watch the rope cutting down into the water, and we could feel the
weight of the wagon kind of blump and lunge lazy like, like it just as soon as
not, and that rope cutting down into the water hard as a iron bar. We could hear
the water hissing on it like it was red hot Like it was a straight iron bar
stuck into the bottom and us holding the end of it, and the wagon lazing up and
down, kind of pushing and prodding at us like it had come around and got behind
us, lazy like, like it just as soon as not when it made up its mind. There was a
shoat come by, blowed up hike a balloon: one of them spotted shoats of Lon
Quick's. It bumped against the rope like it was a iron bar and bumped off and
went on, and. us watching that rope slanting down into the water. We watched it.
Cash lies on his back on the earth, his head raised on a rolled garment. His
eyes are closed, his face is gray, his hair plastered in a smooth smear across
his forehead as though done with, a paint brush. His face appears sunken a
little, "sagging from the bony ridges of eye sockets, nose, gums, as though the
wetting had slacked the firmness which had held the skin full; his teeth, set in
pale gums, are parted a little as if he had been laughing quietly. He lies polethin
in his wet clothes, a little pool of vomit at his head and a thread of it
running from the corner of his mouth and down his cheek where he couldn't turn
his head quick or far enough, until Dewey Dell stoops and wipes it away with the
hem of her dress.
Jewel approaches. He has the plane. "Vernon just found the square," he
says. He looks down at Cash, dripping too. "Aint he talked none yet?"
"He had his saw and hammer and chalk-line and rule," I say. "I know that."
Jewel lays the square down. Pa watches him. "They cant be far away," pa
says. 'It all went together. Was there ere a such misfortunate man."
Jewel does not look at pa. "You better call Vardaman back here," he says.
He looks at Cash. Then he turns and goes away. "Get him to talk soon as he can,"
he says, "so he can tell us what else there was."
We return to the river. The wagon is hauled clear, the wheels chocked
(carefully: we all helped; it is as though upon the shabby, familiar, inert
shape of the wagon there lingered somehow, latent yet still immediate, that
violence which had slain the mules that drew it not an hour since) above the
edge of the flood. In the wagon bed it lies profoundly, the long pale planks
hushed a little with wetting yet still yellow, like gold seen through water,
save for two long muddy smears. We pass it and go on to the bank.
One end of the rope is made fast to a tree. At the edge of the stream,
knee-deep, Vardaman stands, bent forward a little, watching Vernon with rapt
absorption. He has stopped yelling and he is wet to the armpits. Vernon is at
the other end of the rope, shoulder-deep in the river, looking back at Vardaman,
"Further back than that," he says. "You git back by the tree and hold the rope
for me, so it cant slip."
Vardaman backs along the rope, to the tree, moving blindly, watching
Vernon. When we come up he looks at us once, his eyes round and a little dazed.
Then Be looks at Vernon again in that posture of rapt alertness.
"I got the hammer too," Vernon says. "Looks like we ought to done already
got that chalk-line. It ought to floated."
"Floated clean away," Jewel says. "We wont get it. We ought to find the
"I reckon so," Vernon says. He looks at the water. "That chalk-line, too.
What else did he have?"
"He aint talked yet," Jewel says, entering the water. He looks back at me.
"You go back and get him roused up to talk," he says.
"Pa's there," I say. I follow Jewel into the water, along the rope. It
feels alive in my hand, bellied faintly in a prolonged and resonant arc. Vernon
is watching me.
"You better go," he says. "You better be there."
"Let's see what else we can get before it washes on down," I say.
We hold to the rope, the current curling and dimpling about our shoulders.
But beneath that false blandness the true force of it leans against us lazily. I
had not thought that water in July could be so cold. It is like hands molding
and prodding at the very bones. Vernon is still looking back toward the bank.
"Reckon it'll hold us all?" he says. We too look back, following the rigid
bar of the rope as it rises from the water to the tree and Vardaman crouched a
little beside it, watching us. "Wish my mule wouldn't strike out for home."
"Come on," Jewel says. "Let's get outen here."
We submerge in turn, holding to the rope, Being clutched by one another
while the cold wall of the water sucks the slanting mud backward and upstream
from beneath our feet and we are suspended so, groping along the cold bottom.
Even the mud there is not still. It has a chill, scouring quality, as though the
earth under us were in motion too. We touch and fumble at one another's extended
arms, letting ourselves go cautiously against the rope; or, erect in turn, watch
the water suck and boil where one of the other two gropes beneath the surface.
Pa has come down to the shore, watching us.
Vernon comes up, streaming, his face sloped down into his pursed blowing
mouth. His mouth is bluish, like a circle of weathered rubber. He has the rule.
"He'll be glad of that," I say. It's right new. He bought it just last
month out of the catalogue."
"If we just knowed for sho what else," Vernon says, looking over his
shoulder and then turning to face where Jewel had disappeared. "Didn't he go
down fore me?" Vernon says.
"I dont know," I say. "I think so. Yes. Yes, he did."
We watch the thick curling surface, streaming away from us in slow whorls.
"Give him a pull on the rope," Vernon says.
"He's on your end of it," I say.
"Aint nobody on my end of it," he says.
"Pull it in," I say. But he has already done that, holding the end above
the water; and then we see Jewel. He is ten yards away; he comes up, blowing,
and looks at us, tossing his long hair back with a jerk of his head, then he
looks toward the bank; we can see him filling his lungs.
"Jewel," Vernon says, not loud, but his voice going full and clear along
the water, peremptory yet tactful. "It'll be back here. Better come back."
Jewel dives again. We stand there, leaning back against the current,
watching the water where he disappeared, holding the dead rope between us like
two men holding the nozzle of a fire hose, waiting for the water. Suddenly Dewey
Dell is behind us in the water. "You make him come back," she says. "Jewel!" she
says. He comes up again, tossing his hair back from his eyes. He is swimming
now, toward the bank, the current sweeping him downstream quartering. "You,
Jewel!" Dewey Dell says. We stand holding the rope and see him gain the bank and
climb out. As he rises from the water, he stoops and picks up something. He
comes back along the bank. He has found the chalk-line. He comes opposite us and
stands there, looking about as if he were seeking something. Pa goes on down the
bank. He is going back to look at the mules again where their round bodies float
and rub quietly together in the slack water within the bend.
"What did you do with the hammer, Vernon?" Jewel says.
"I give it to him," Vernon says, jerking his head at Vardaman. Vardaman is
looking after pa. Then he looks at Jewel. "With the square." Vernon is watching
Jewel. He moves toward the bank, passing Dewey Dell and me.
"You get on out of here," I say. She says nothing, looking at Jewel and
"Where's the hammer?" Jewel says. Vardaman scuttles tip the bank and
"It's heavier than the saw," Vernon says. Jewel is tying the end of the
chalk-line about the hammer shaft.
"Hammer's got the most wood in it," Jewel says. He and Vernon face one
another, watching Jewel's hands.
"And flatter, too," Vernon says. 'It'd float three to one, almost. Try the
Jewel looks at Vernon. Vernon is tall, too; long and lean, eye to eye they
stand in their close wet clothes. Lon Quick could look even at a cloudy sky and
tell the time to ten minutes. Big Lon I mean, not little Lon.
"Why dont you get out of the water?" I say.
"It wont float like a saw," Jewel says.
"It'll float nigher to a saw than a hammer will," Vernon says.
"Bet you," Jewel says.
"I wont bet," Vernon says.
They stand there, watching Jewel's still hands.
"Hell," Jewel says. "Get the plane, then."
So they get the plane and tie it to the chalk-line and enter the water
again. Pa comes back along the bank. He stops for a while and looks at us,
hunched, mournful, like a failing steer or an old tall bird.
Vernon and Jewel return, leaning against the current. "Get out of the
way," Jewel says to Dewey Dell. "Get out of the water."
She crowds against me a little so they can pass, Jewel holding the plane
high as though it were perishable, the blue string trailing back over his
shoulder. They pass us and stop; they fall to arguing quietly about just where
the wagon went over.
"Darl ought to know," Vernon says. They look at me.
"I dont know," I says. "I wasn't there that long"
"Hell," Jewel says. They move on, gingerly, leaning against the current,
reading the ford with their feet.
"Have you got a holt of the rope?" Vernon says. Jewel does not answer. He
glances back at the shore, calculant, then at the water. He flings the plane
outward, letting the string run through his fingers, his fingers turning blue
where it runs over them. When the line stops, he hands it back to Vernon.
"Better let me go this time," Vernon says. Again Jewel does not answer; we
watch him duck beneath the surface.
"Jewel," Dewey Dell whimpers.
"It aint so deep there," Vernon says. He does not look back. He is
watching the water where Jewel went under.
When Jewel comes up he has the saw.
When we pass the wagon pa is standing beside it; scrubbing at the two mud
smears with a handful of leaves. Against the jungle Jewel's horse looks like a
patchwork quilt hung on a line.
Cash has not moved. We stand above him, holding the plane, the saw, the
hammer, the square, the rule, the chalk-line, while Dewey Dell squats and lifts
Cash's head. "Cash," she says; "Cash."
He opens his eyes, staring profoundly up at our inverted faces.
"If ever was such a misfortunate man," pa says.
"Look, Cash," we say, holding the tools up so he can see; "what else did
He tries to speak, rolling his head, shutting his eyes.
"Cash," we say; "Cash."
It is to vomit he is turning his head. Dewey Dell wipes his mouth on the
wet hem of her dress; then he can speak.
"It's his saw-set," Jewel says. "The new one he bought when he bought the
rule." He moves, turning away. Vernon looks tip after him, still squatting. Then
he rises and follows Jewel down to the water.
"If ever was such a misfortunate man," pa says. He looms tall above us as
we squat; he looks like a figure carved clumsily from tough wood by a drunken
caricaturist. "It's a trial." he says. "But I doat begrudge her it. No man can
say I begrudge her it" Dewey Dell-has kid Cash's head back on the folded coat
twisting his head a little to avoid the vomit Beside him his tools lie. "A
fellow might call ft lucky it was the same leg he broke when he fell offen that
church," pa says. "But I dont begrudge her it."
Jewel and Vernon are in the river again. From here they do not appear to
violate the surface at all; it is as though it had severed them both at a single
blow, the two torsos moving with infinitesimal and ludicrous care upon the
surface. It looks peaceful, like machinery does after you have watched it and
listened to it for a long time. As though the clotting which is you had
dissolved into the myriad original motion, and seeing and hearing in themselves
blind and deaf; fury in itself quiet with stagnation. Squatting, Dewey Dell's
wet dress shapes for the dead eyes of three blind men those mammalian
ludicrosities which are the horizons and the valleys of the earth.
It wasn't on a balance. I told them that if they wanted it to tote and ride on a
balance, they would have to
One day we were talking. She had never been pure religious, not even after that
summer at the camp meeting when Brother Whitfield wrestled with her spirit,
singled her out and strove with the vanity in her mortal heart, and I said to
her many a time, "God gave you children to comfort your hard human lot and for a
token of His own suffering and love, for in love you conceived and bore them." I
said that because she took God's love and her duty to Him too much as a matter
of course, and such conduct is not pleasing to Him. I said, "He gave us the gift
to raise our voices in His undying praise" because I said there is more
rejoicing in heaven over one sinner than over a hundred that never sinned. And
she said, "My daily life is an acknowledgment and expiation of my sin" and I
said "Who are you, to say what is sin and what is not sin? It is the Lord's part
to judge; ours to praise His mercy and His holy name in the hearing of our
fellow mortals" because He alone can see into the heart, and just because a
woman's Me is right in the sight of man, she cant know if there is no sin in her
heart without she opens her heart to the Lord and receives His grace. I said,
"Just because you have been a faithful wife is no sign that there is no sin in
your heart, and just because your Me is hard is no sign that the Lord's grace is
absolving you." And she said, "I know my own sin. I know that I deserve my
punishment. I do not begrudge it." And I said, 'It is out of your vanity that
you would judge sin and salvation in the Lord's place. It is our mortal lot to
suffer and to raise our voices in praise of Him who judges the sin and offers
the salvation through our trials and tribulations time out of mind amen. Not
even after Brother Whitfield, a godly man if ever one breathed God's breath,
prayed for you and strove as never a man could except him," I said.
Because it is not us that can judge our sins or know what is sin in the
Lord's eyes. She has had a hard Me, but so does every woman. But you'd think
from the way she talked that she knew more about sin and salvation than the Lord
God Himself, than them who have strove and labored with the sin in this human
world. When the only sin she ever committed was being partial to Jewel that
never loved her and was its own punishment, in preference to Darl that was
touched by God Himself and considered queer by us mortals and that did love her.
I said, "There is your sin. And your punishment too. Jewel is your punishment.
But where is your salvation? And life is short enough," I said, "to win eternal
grace in. And God is a jealous God. It is His to judge and to mete; not yours."
"I know," she said. I--" Then she stopped, and I said,
"Nothing," she said. He is my cross and he will be my salvation. He will
save me from, the water and from the fire. Even though I have laid down my life,
he will save me."
"How do you know, without you open your heart to Him and lift your voice
in His praise?" I said. Then I realised that she did not mean God. I realised
that out of the vanity of her heart she had spoken sacrilege. And I went down on
my knees right there. I begged her to kneel and open her heart and cast from ft
the devil of vanity and cast herself upon the mercy of the Lord. But she
wouldn't. She just sat there, lost in her vanity and her pride, that had closed
her heart to God and set that selfish mortal boy in His place. Kneeling there I
prayed for her. I prayed for that poor blind woman as I had never prayed for me
In the afternoon when school was out and the last one had left with his little
dirty snuffling nose, instead of going home I would go down the hill to the
spring where I could be quiet and hate them. It would he quiet there then, with
the water bubbling up and away and the sun slanting quiet in the trees and the
quiet smelling of damp and rotting leaves and new earth; especially in the early
spring, for it was worst then.
I could just remember how my father used to say that the reason for living
was to get ready to stay dead a long time And when I would have to look at them
day after day, "each with his and her secret and selfish thought, and blood
strange to each other blood and strange to mine, and think that this seemed to
be the only way I could get ready to stay dead, I would hate my father for
having ever planted me. I would look forward to the times when they faulted, so
I could whip them. When the switch fell I could feel it upon my flesh; when it
welted and ridged it was my blood that ran, and I would think with each blow of
the switch: Now you are aware of me Now I am something in your secret and
selfish life, who have marked your blood with my own for ever and ever.
And so I took Anse. I saw him pass the school house three or four times
before I learned that he was driving four miles out of his way to do it. I
noticed then how he was beginning to hump--a tall man and young --so that he
looked already like a tall bird hunched in the cold weather, on the wagon seat
He would pass the school house, the wagon creaking slow, his head turning slow
to watch the door of the school house as the wagon passed, until he went on
around the curve and out of sight. One day I went to the door and stood there
when he passed. When he saw me he looked quickly away and did not look back
In the early spring it was worst. Sometimes I thought that I could not
bear it, lying in bed at night, with the wild geese going north and their
honking coming faint and high and wild out of the wild darkness, and during the
day it would seem as though I couldn't wait for the last one to go so I could go
down to the spring. And so when I looked up that day and saw Anse standing there
in his Sunday clothes, turning his hat round and round in his hands, I said:
"If you've got any womenfolks, why in the world dont they make you get
your hair cut?"
"I aint got none," he said. Then he said suddenly, driving his eyes at me
like two hounds in a strange yard: "That's what I come to see you about,"
"And make you hold your shoulders up," I said. "You haven't got any? But
you've got a house. They tell me you've got a house and a good farm. And you
live there alone, doing for yourself, do you?" He just looked at me, turning the
hat in his hands. "A new house," I said. "Are you going to get married?"
And he said again, holding his eyes to mine: "That's what I come to see
Later he told me, "I aint got no people. So that wont be no worry to you.
I dont reckon you can say the same."
"No. I have people. In Jefferson."
His face fell a little. "Well, I got a little property. I'm forehanded; I
got a good honest name. I know how town folks are, but maybe when they talk to
"They might listen," I said. "But they'll be hard to talk to." He was
watching my face. "They're in the cemetery."
"But your living kin," he said. "They'll be different."
"Will they?" I said. 'I dont know. I never had any other kind."
So I took Anse. And when I knew that I had Cash, I knew that living was
terrible and that this was the answer to it. That was when I learned that words
are no good; that words dont ever fit even what they are trying to say at. When
he was born I knew that motherhood was invented by someone who had to have a
word for it because the ones that had the children didn't care whether there was
a word for it or not. I knew that fear was invented by someone that had never
had the fear; pride, who never had the pride. I knew that it had been, not that
they had dirty noses, but that we had had to use one another by words like
spiders dangling by their mouths from a beam, swinging and twisting and never
touching, and that only through the blows of die switch could my blood and their
blood flow as one stream. I knew that it had. been, not that my aloneness had to
be violated over and over each day, but that it had never been violated until
Cash came. Not even by Anse in the nights.
He had a word, too. Love, he called it. But I had been used to words for a
long time. I knew that that word was like the others: just a shape to fill a
lack; that when the right time Came, you wouldn't need a word for that anymore
than for pride or fear. Cash did not need to say it to me nor I to him, and I
would say Let Anse use it, if he wants to. So that it was Anse or love; love or
Anse: it didn't matter.
I would think that even while I lay with him in the dark and Cash asleep
in the cradle within the swing of my hand. I would think that if he were to wake
and cry, I would suckle him, too. Anse or love: it .didn't matter. My aloneness
had been violated and then made whole again by the violation: time, Anse, love,
what you will, outside the circle.
Then I found that I had Dark At first I would not believe it. Then I
believed that I would kill Anse. It was as though he had tricked me, hidden
within a word like within a paper screen and struck me in the back through it.
But then I realised that I had been tricked by words older than Anse or love,
and that the same word had tricked Anse too, and that my revenge would be that
he would never know I was taking revenge. And when Darl was born I asked Anse to
promise to take me back to Jefferson when I died, because I knew that father had
been right, even when he couldn't have known he was right anymore than I could
have known I was wrong.
"Nonsense," Anse said; "you and me aint nigh done chapping yet, with just
He did not know that he was dead, then. Sometimes I would lie by him in
the dark, hearing the land that was now of my blood and flesh, and I would
think: Anse. Why Anse. Why are you Anse. I would think about his name until
after a while I could see the word as a shape, a vessel, and I would watch him
liquefy and flow into it like cold molasses flowing out of the darkness into the
vessel, until the jar stood full and motionless: a significant shape profoundly
without Me like an empty door frame; and then I would find that I had forgotten
the name of the jar. I would think: The shape of my body where I used to be a
virgin is in the shape of a and I couldn't think Anse, couldn't remember
Anse. It was not that I could think of myself as no longer unvirgin, because I
was three now. And when I would think Cash and Darl that way until their names
would die and solidify into a shape and then fade away, I would say, All right.
It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter what they call them.
And so when Cora Tull would tell me I was not a true mother, I would think
how words go straight up in a thin, line, quick and harmless, and how terribly
doing goes along the earth, clinging to it, so that after a while the two lines
are too far apart for the same person to straddle from one to the other and that
sin and love and fear are-just sounds that people who never sinned nor loved nor
feared have for what they never had and cannot have until they forget the words.
Like Cora, who could never even cook.
She would tell me what I owed to my children and to Anse and to God. I
gave Anse the children. I did not ask for them. I did not even ask him for what
he could have given me: not-Anse. That was my duty to him, to not ask that, and
that duty I fulfilled. I would be I; I would let him be the shape and echo of
his word. That was more than he asked, because he could not have asked for that
and been Anse, using himself so with a word.
And then he died. He did not know he was dead. I would lie by him in the
dark, hearing the dark land talking of Cod's love and His beauty and His sin;
hearing the dark voicelessness in which the words are the deeds, and the other
words that are not deeds, that are just the gaps in peoples' lacks, coming down
like the cries of the geese out of the wild darkness in the old terrible nights,
fumbling at the deeds like orphans to whom are pointed out in a crowd two faces
and told, That is your father, your mother.
I believed that I had found it. I believed that the reason was the duty to
the alive, to the terrible blood, the red bitter flood boiling through the land.
I would think of sin as I would think of the clothes we both wore in the world's
face, of the circumspection necessary because he was he and I was I; the sin the
more utter and terrible since he was the instrument ordained by God who created
the sin, to sanctify that sin He had created. While I waited for him in the
woods, waiting for him before he saw me, I would think of him as dressed in sin.
I would think of him as thinking of me as dressed also in sin, he the more
beautiful since the garment which he had exchanged for sin was sanctified. I
would think of the sin as garments which we would remove in order to shape and
coerce the terrible blood to the forlorn echo of the dead word high in the air.
Then I would lay with Anse again-l did not lie to him: I just refused, just as
I refused my breast to Cash, and Darl after their time was up-hearing the dark
land talking the voiceless speech.
I hid nothing. I tried to deceive no one. I would not have cared. I merely
took the precautions that he thought necessary for his sake, not for my safety,
but just as I wore clothes in the world's face. And I would think then when Cora
talked to me, of how the high dead words in time seemed to lose even the
significance of their dead sound.
Then it was over. Over in the sense that he was gone and I knew that, see
him again though I would, I would never again see him coming swift and secret to
me in the woods dressed in sin like a gallant garment already blowing aside with
the speed of his secret coming.
But for me it was not over. I mean, over in the sense of beginning and
ending, because to me there was no beginning nor ending to anything then. I even
held Anse refraining still, not that I was holding him recessional, but as
though nothing else had ever been. My children were of me alone, of the wild
blood boiling along the earth, of me and of all that lived; of none and of all.
Then I found that I had Jewel. When I waked to remember to discover it, he was
two months gone.
My father said that the reason for living is getting ready to stay dead. I
knew at last what he meant and that he could not have known what he meant
himself, because a man cannot know anything about cleaning up the house
afterward. And so I have cleaned my house. With Jewel--I lay by the lamp,
holding up my own head, watching him cap and suture it before he breathed-the
wild blood boiled away and the sound of it ceased. Then there was only the milk,
warm and calm, and I lying calm in the slow silence, getting ready to clean my
I gave Anse Dewey Dell to negative Jewel. Then I gave him Vardaman to
replace the child I had robbed him of. And now he has three children that are
his and not mine. And then I could get ready to die.
One day I was talking to Cora. She prayed for me because she believed I
was blind to sin, wanting me to kneel and pray too, because people to whom sin
is just a matter of words, to them salvation is just words too.
When they told me she was dying, all that night I wrestled with Satan, and I
emerged victorious. I woke to the enormity of my sin; I saw the true light at
last, and I fell on my knees and confessed to God and asked His guidance and
received it. "Rise," He said; "repair to that home in which you have put a
living lie, among those people with whom you have outraged My Word; confess your
sin aloud. It is for them, for that deceived husband, to forgive you: not I."
So I went. I heard that Tull's bridge was gone; I said "Thanks, O Lord, O Mighty
Ruler of all"; for by those dangers and difficulties which I should have to
surmount I saw that He had not abandoned me; that my reception again into His
holy peace and love would be the sweeter for it. "Just let me not perish before
I have begged the forgiveness of the man whom I betrayed," I prayed; "let me not
be too late; let not the tale of mine and her transgression come from her lips
instead of mine. She had sworn then that she would never tell it, but eternity
is a fearsome thing to face: have I not wrestled thigh to thigh with Satan
myself? let me not have also the sin of her broken vow upon my soul. Let not the
waters of Thy Mighty Wrath encompass me until I have cleansed my soul in the
presence of them whom I injured."
It was His hand that bore me safely above the flood, that fended from methe
dangers of the waters. My horse was frightened, and my own heart failed me
as the logs and the uprooted trees bore down upon my littleness. But not my
soul: time after time I saw them averted at destruction's final instant, and I
lifted my voice above the noise of the flood: "Praise to Thee, O Mighty Lord and
King. By this token shall I cleanse my soul and gain again into the fold of Thy
I knew then that forgiveness was mine. The flood, the danger, behind, and
as I rode on across the firm earth again and the scene of my Gethsemane drew
closer and closer, I framed the words which I should use. I would enter the
house; I would stop her before she had spoken; I would say to her husband:
"Anse, I have sinned. Do with me as you will."
It was already as though it were done. My soul felt freer, quieter than it
had in years; already I seemed to dwell in abiding peace again as I rode on. To
either side I saw His hand; in my heart I could hear His voice: "Courage. I am
Then I reached Tull's house. His youngest girl came out and called to me
as I was passing. She told me that she was already dead.
"I have sinned, O Lord. Thou knowest the extent of my remorse and the will
of my spirit. But He is merciful; He will accept the will for the deed, Who knew
that when I framed the words of my confession it was to Anse I spoke them, even
though he was not there. It was He in His infinite wisdom that restrained the
tale from her dying lips as she lay surrounded by those who loved and trusted
her; mine the travail by water which I sustained by the strength of His hand.
Praise to Thee in Thy bounteous and omnipotent love; O praise.
I entered the house of bereavement, the lowly dwelling where another
erring mortal lay while her soul faced the awful and irrevocable judgment, peace
to her ashes.
"God's grace upon this house," I said.
On the horse he rode up to Armstid's and came back on the horse, leading
Arrnstid's team. We hitched up and laid Cash on top of Addie. When we laid him
down he vomited again, but he got his head over the wagon bed in time.
"He taken a lick in the stomach, too," Vernon said.
"The horse may have kicked him in the stomach too," I said. "Did he kick
you in the stomach, Cash?"
He tried to say something. Dewey Dell wiped his mouth again.
"What's he say?" Vernon said.
"What is it, Cash?" Dewey Dell said. She leaned down. "His tools," she
said. Vernon got them and put them into the wagon. Dewey Dell lifted Cash's head
so he could see. We drove on, Dewey Dell and I sitting beside Cash to steady him
and he riding on ahead on the horse. Vernon stood watching us for a while. Then
he turned and went back toward the bridge. He walked gingerly, beginning to
flap, the wet sleeves of his shirt as though he had just got wet.
He was sitting the horse before the gate. Armstid was waiting at the gate.
We stopped and he got down and we lifted Cash down and carried him into the
house, where Mrs Armstid had the bed ready. We left her and Dewey Dell
We followed pa out to the wagon. He went back and got into the wagon and
drove on, we following on foot, into the lot. The wetting had helped, because
Armstid said, "You're welcome to the house. You can put it there." He followed,
leading the horse, and stood beside the wagon, the reins in his hand.
"I thank you," pa said. "We'll use in the shed yonder. I know it's a
imposition on you."
"You're welcome to the house," Armstid said. He had that wooden look on
his face again; that bold, surly, high-colored rigid look like his face and
eyes were two colors of wood, the wrong one pale and the wrong one dark. His
shirt was beginning to dry, but it still clung close upon him when he moved.
"She would appreciate it," pa said.
We took the team out and rolled the wagon bade under the shed. One side of
the shed was open.
"It wont rain under," Armstid said. "But if you'd rather . . ."
Back of the barn was some rusted sheets of tin roofing. We took two of
them and propped them against the open side.
"You're welcome to the house," Armstid said.
"I thank you," pa said. "I'd take it right kind if you'd give them a
"Sho," Armstid said. "We'll have supper ready soon as she gets Cash
comfortable." He had gone back to the horse and he took taking the saddle off,
his damp shirt lapping flat to him when he moved.
Pa wouldn't come in the house. "Come in and eat," Armstid said. "It's nigh
"I wouldn't crave nothing," pa said. "I thank you."
"You come in and dry and eat," Armstid said. "It'll be all right here."
"It's for her," pa said. "It's for her sake I am taking the food. I got no
team, no nothing. But she will be grateful to ere a one of you."
"Sho," Armstid said. "You folks come in and dry."
But after Armstid gave pa a drink, he felt better, and when we went in to
see about Cash he hadn't come in with us. When I looked back he was leading the
horse into the barn he was already talking about getting another team, and by
supper time he had good as bought it. He is down there in the barn, sliding
fluidly past the gaudy lunging swirl, into the stall with it. He climbs onto
the manger and drags the hay down and leaves the stall and seeks and finds the
currycomb. Then he returns and slips quickly past the single crashing thump and
up against the horse, where it cannot overreach. He applies the curry-comb,
holding himself within the horse's striking radius with the agility of an
acrobat, cursing the horse in a whisper of obscene caress. Its head flashes
back, tooth -cropped; its eyes roll in the dusk like marbles on a gaudy velvet
cloth as he strikes it upon the face with the back of the curry-comb.
But time I give him another sup of whisky and supper was about ready, he had
done already bought a team from somebody, on a credit. Picking and choosing he
were by then, saying how he didn't nice this span and wouldn't put his money in
nothing so-and-so owned, not even a hen coop.
"You might try Snopes," I said. "He's got three-four span. Maybe one of
them would suit you."
Then he begun to mumble his mouth, looking at me nice it was me that owned
the only span of mules in the county and wouldn't sell them to him, when I knew
that like as not it would be my team that would ever get them out of the lot at
all. Only I dont know what they would do with them, if they had a team.
Littlejohn had told me that the levee through Haley bottom had done gone for
two miles and that the only way to get to Jefferson would be to go around by
Mottson. But that was Anse's business.
"He's a close man to trade with," he says, mumbling his mouth. But when I
give him another sup after supper, he cheered up some. He was aiming to go back
to the barn and set up with her. Maybe he thought that if he Just stayed down
there ready to take out Santa Claus would maybe bring him a span of mules. "But
I reckon I can talk him around," he says. "A man'll always help a fellow in a
tight, if he's got ere a drop of Christian blood in him."
"Of course you're welcome to the use of mine," I said, me knowing how much
he believed that was the reason.
"I thank you," he said. "She'll want to go in ourn," and him knowing how
much I believed that was the reason.
After supper Jewel rode over to the Bend to get Peabody. I heard he was to
be there today at Varner's. Jewel come back about midnight. Peabody had gone
down below Inverness somewhere, but Uncle Billy come back with him, with his
satchel of horse physic. Like he says, a man aint so different from a horse or a
mule, come long come short, except a mule or a horse has got a little more
sense. "What you been Into now, boy?" he says, looking at Cash. "Get me a
mattress and a chair and a glass of whisky," he says.
He made Cash drink the whisky, then he run Anse out of the room. "Lucky it
was the same leg he broke last summer," Anse says, mournful, mumbling and
blinking. "That's something."
We folded the mattress across Cash's legs and set the chair on the
mattress and me and Jewel set on the chair and the gal held the lamp and Uncle
Billy taken a chew of tobacco and went to work. Cash fought pretty hard for a
while, until he fainted. Then he laid still, with big balls of sweat standing on
his face like they had started to roll down and then stopped to wait for him.
When he waked up, Uncle Billy had done packed up and left. He kept on
trying to say something until the gal leaned down and wiped his mouth. "It's his
tools," she said.
"I brought them in," Darl said. "I got them."
He tried to talk again; she leaned down. "He wants to see them," she said.
So Darl brought them in where he could see them. They shoved them under the side
of the bed, where he could reach his hand and touch them when he felt better.
Next morning Anse taken that horse and rode over to the Bend to see Snopes. Him
and Jewel stood in the lot talking a while, then Anse got on the horse and rode
off. I reckon that was the first time Jewel ever let anybody ride that horse,
and until Anse come back he hung around in that swole-up way, watching the road
like he was half a mind to take out after Anse and get the horse back.
Along toward nine oclock it begun to get hot. That was when I see the
first buzzard. Because of the wetting, I reckon. Anyway it wasn't until well
into the day that I see them. Lucky the breeze was -setting away from the house,
so it wasn't until well into the morning. But soon as I see them it was like I
could smell it in the field a mile away from just watching them, and them
circling and circling for everybody in the county to see what was in my barn.
I was still a good half a mile from the house when I heard that boy
yelling. I thought maybe he might have fell into the well or something, so I
whipped up and come into the lot on the lope.
There must have been a dozen of them setting along the ridge-pole of the
bam, and that boy was chasing another one around the lot like it was a turkey
and it just lifting enough to dodge him and go flopping bade to the roof of the
shed again where he had found it setting on the coffin. It had got hot then,
right, and the breeze had dropped or changed or something, so I went and found
Jewel, but Lula come out.
"You got to do something,'" she said. "It's a outrage."
"That's what I aim to do," I said.
"It's a outrage," she said. "He should be lawed for treating her so."
"He's getting her into the ground the best he can," I said. So I found
Jewel and asked him if he didn't want to take one of the mules and go over to
the Bend and see about Anse. He didn't say nothing. He just looked at me with
his jaws going bone-white and them bone-white eyes of hisn, then he went and
begun to call Darl.
"What you fixing to do?" I said.
He didn't answer. Darl come out. "Come on," Jewel said.
"What you aim to do?" Darl said.
"Going to move the wagon," Jewel said over his shoulder.
"Dont be a fool," I said. "I never meant nothing. You couldn't help it."
And Darl hung back too but nothing woulddn't suit Jewel.
"Shut your goddamn mouth," he says.
"It's got to be somewhere," Darl said. "We'll take out soon as pa gets
"You wont help me?" Jewel says, them white eyes of hisn kind of blaring
and his face shaking like he had a aguer.
"No," Darl said. "I wont. Wait till pa gets back."
So I stood in the door and watched him push and pull at that wagon. It was
on a downhill, and once I thought he was fixing to beat out the back end of the
shed. Then, the dinner bell rung. I called him, but he didn't look around. "Come
on to dinner," I said. 'Tell that boy." But he didn't answer, so I went on to
dinner. The gal went down to get that boy, but she come back without him. About
half through dinner we heard him yelling again, running that buzzard out.
"It's a outrage," Lula said; "a outrage."
"He's doing the best he can," I said. "A fellow dont trade with Snopes in
thirty minutes. They'll set in die shade all afternoon to dicker."
"Do?" she says. "Do? He's done too much, already."
And I reckon he had. Trouble is, his quitting was Just about to start our
doing. He couldn't buy no team from nobody, let alone Snopes, withouten he had
something to mortgage he didn't know would mortgage yet. And so when I went back
to the field I looked at my mules and same as told them goodbye for a spell And
when I come back that evening and the sun shining all day on that shed, I wasn't
so sho I would regret it.
He come riding up just as I went out to the porch, where they all was. He
looked kind of funny: kind of more hang-dog than common, and kind of proud too.
Like he had done something he thought was cute but wasn't so sho now how other
folks would take it.
"I got a team," he said.
"You bought a team from Snopes?" I said.
"I reckon Snopes aint the only man in this country that can drive a
trade," he said.
"Sho," I said. He was looking at Jewel, with that funny look, but Jewel
had done got down from the porch and was going toward the horse. To see what
Anse had done to it, I reckon.
"Jewel," Anse says. Jewel looked back. "Come here," Anse says. Jewel come
back a little and stopped again,
"What you want?" he said.
"So you got a team from Snopes," I said. "He'll send them over tonight, I
reckon? You'll want a early start tomorrow, long as you'll have to go by
Then he quit looking like he had been for a while. He got that badgered
look like he used to have, mumbling his mouth.
"I do the best I can," he said. "Fore God, if there were ere a man in the
living world suffered the trials and floutings I have suffered."
"A fellow that just beat Snopes in a trade ought to feel pretty good," I
said. "What did you give him, Anse?"
He didn't look at me. "I give a chattel mortgage on my cultivator and
seeder," he said.
"But they aint worth forty dollars. How far do you aim to get with a forty
They were all watching him now, quiet and steady. Jewel was stopped,
halfway back, waiting to go on to the horse. "I give other things," Anse said.
He begun to mumble his mouth again, standing there like he was waiting for
somebody to hit him and him with his mind already made up not to do nothing
"What other things?" Darl said.
"Hell," I said. "You take my team. You can bring them back. Ill get along
"So thats what you were doing in Cash's clothes last night," Darl said. He
said it just like he was reading it outen the paper. Like he never give a durn
himself one way or the other. Jewel had come back now, standing there, looking
at Anse with them marble eyes of hisn. "Cash aimed to buy that talking machine
from Suratt with that money," Darl said.
Anse stood there, mumbling his mouth. Jewel watched him. He aint never
"But that's just eight dollars more," Darl said, in that voice like he was
just listening and never give a durn himself. "That still wont buy a team."
Anse looked at Jewel, quick, kind of sliding his eyes that way, then he
looked down again. "God knows, if there were ere a man," he says. Still they
didn't say nothing. They just watched him, waiting, and hire sliding his eyes
toward their feet and up their legs but no higher. "And the horse," he says.
"What horse?" Jewel said. Anse just stood there. I be durn, if a man cant
keep the upper hand of his sons, he ought to run them away from home, no matter
how big they are. And if he cant do that, I be durn if he oughtn't to leave
himself. I be durn if I wouldn't. "You mean, you tried to swap my horse?" Jewel
Anse stands there, dangle-armed. "For fifteen years I aint had a tooth in
my head," he says. "God knows it. He knows in fifteen years I aint et the
victuals He aimed for man to eat to keep his strength up, and me saving a nickel
here and a nickel there so my family wouldn't suffer it to buy them teeth so I
could eat God's appointed food. I give that money. I thought that if I could do
without eating, my sons could do without riding. God knows I did."
Jewel stands with his hands on his hips, looking at Anse. Then he looks
away. He looked out across the field, his face still as a rode, like it was
somebody else talking about somebody else's horse and him not even listening.
Then he spit; slow, and said "Hell" and he turned and went on to the gate and
unhitched the horse and got on it. It was moving when he come into the saddle
and by the time he was on it they was tearing down the road like the Law might
have been behind them. They went out of sight that way, the two of them looking
like some kind of a spotted cyclone.
"Well," I says. "You take my team," I said. But he wouldn't do it And they
wouldn't even stay, and that boy chasing them buzzards all day in the hot sun
until he was nigh as crazy as the rest of them. "Leave Cash here, anyway," I
said. But they wouldn't do that. They made a pallet for him with quilts on top
of the coffin and laid him on it and set his tools by him, and we put my team in
and hauled the wagon about a mile down the road.
"If we'll bother you here," Anse says, "just say so."
"Sho," I said. "It'll be fine here. Safe, too. Now let's go back and eat
"I thank you," Anse said. "We got a little something in the basket. We can
"Where'd you get it?" I said.
"We brought it from home."
"But it'll be stale now," I said. "Come and get some hot victuals."
But they wouldn't come. "I reckon we can make out," Anse said. So I went
home and et and taken a basket back to them and tried again to make them come
back to the house.
"I thank you," he said. "I reckon we can make out." So I left them there,
squatting around a little fire, waiting; God knows what for.
I come on home. I kept thinking about them there, and about that fellow
tearing away on that horse. And that would be the last they would see of him.
And I be durn if I could blame him. Not for wanting to not give up his horse,
but for getting shut of such a durn fool as Anse.
Or that's what I thought then. Because be durn if there aint something
about a durn fellow like Anse that seems to make a man have to help him, even
when he knows hell be wanting to kick himself next minute. Because about a hour
after breakfast next morning Eustace Grimm that works Snopes place come up with
a span of mules, hunting Anse.
"I thought him and Anse never traded," I said.
"Sho," Eustace said. "All they liked was the horse. Like I said to Mr
Snopes, he was letting this team go for fifty dollars, because if his uncle Flem
had a just kept them Texas horses when he owned them, Anse wouldn't a never--"
"The horse?" I said. "Anse's boy taken that horse and cleared out last
night, probably halfway to Texas by now, and Anse — "
"I didn't know who brung it," Eustace said. "I never see them. I just
found the horse in the barn this morning when I went to feed, and I told Mr
Snopes and he said to bring the team on over here."
Well, that'll be the last they'll ever see of him now, sho enough. Come
Christmas time they'll maybe get a postal -card from nim in Texas, I reckon. And
if it hadn't a been Jewel, I reckon it'd a been me; I owe him that much, myself.
I be durn if Anse dont conjure a man, some way. I be durn if he aint a sight.
Now there are seven of them, in little tall black circles.
"Look, Darl," I say; "see?"
He looks up. We watch them in little tall black circles of not-moving.
"Yesterday there were just four," I say.
There were more than four on the barn.
"Do you know what I would do if he tries to light on the wagon again?" I
"What would you do?" Darl says.
"I wouldn't let him light on her," I say. "I wouldn't let him light on
Cash is sick. He is sick on the box. But my mother is a fish.
"We got to get some medicine in Mottson," pa says. "I reckon well just
"How do you feel, Cash?" Darl says.
"It dont bother none," Cash says.
"Do you want it propped a little higher?" Darl says.
Cash has a broken leg. He has had two broken legs. He lies on the box with
a quilt rolled under his head and a piece of wood under his knee.
"I reckon we ought to left him at Armstid's," pa says.
I haven't got a broken leg and pa hasn't and Darl hasn't and "It's just
the bumps," Cash says. "It kind of grinds together a little on a bump. It dont
bother none." Jewel has gone away. He and his horse went away one supper time
"It's because she wouldn't have us beholden," pa says. "Fore God, I do the
best that ere a man" Is it because Jewel's mother is a horse Darl? I said.
"Maybe I can draw the ropes a little tighter," Darl says. That's why
Jewel and I were both in the shed 'and she was in the wagon because the horse
lives in the barn and I had to keep on running the buzzard away from
"If you just would," Cash says. And Dewey Dell hasn't got a broken leg and
I haven't. Cash is my brother.
We stop. When Darl loosens the rope Cash begins to sweat again. His teeth
"Hurt?" Darl says.
"I reckon you better put it back," Cash says.
Darl puts the rope back, pulling hard. Cash's teeth look out.
"Hurt?" Darl says.
"It dont bother none," Cash says.
"Do you want pa to drive slower?" Darl says.
"No," Cash says. "Aint no time to hang back. It dont bother none."
"We'll have to get some medicine at Mottson," pa says. "I reckon we'll
"Tell him to go on," Cash says. We go on. Dewey Dell leans back and wipes
Cash's face. Cash is my brother. But Jewel's mother is a horse. My mother is a
fish. Darl says that when we come to the water again I might see her and Dewey
Dell said, She's in the box; how could she have got out? She got out through
the holes I bored, into the water I said, and when we come to the water again I
am going to see her. My mother is not in the box. My mother does not smell like
that. My mother is a fish
"Those cakes will be in fine shape by the time we get to Jefferson," Darl
Dewey Dell does not look around.
"You better try to sell them in Mottson," Darl says.
"When will we get to Mottson, Darl?" I say.
"Tomorrow," Darl says. "If this team dont rack to pieces. Snopes must have
fed them on sawdust."
"Why did he feed them on sawdust, Darl?" I say.
"Look," Darl says. "See?"
Now there are nine of them, tall in little tall black circles.
When we come to the foot of the hill pa stops and Darl and Dewey Dell and
I get out. Cash cant walk because he has a broken leg. "Come up, mules," pa
says. The mules walk hard; tie wagon creaks. Darl and Dewey Dell and I walk
behind the wagon, up the hill. When we come to the top of the hill pa stops and
we get back into the wagon.
Now there are ten of them, tall in little tall black circles on the sky.
I happened to look up, and saw her outside the window, looking in. Not close to
the glass, and not looking at anything in particular; just standing there with
her head turned this way and her eyes full on me and kind of blank too, like she
was waiting for a sign. When I looked up again she was moving toward the door.
She kind of bumbled at the screen door a minute, like they do, and came
in. She had on a stiff-brimmed straw hat setting on the top of her head and she
was carrying a package wrapped in newspaper: I thought that she had a quarter or
a dollar at the most, and that after she stood around a while she would maybe
buy a cheap comb or a bottle of nigger toilet water, so I never disturbed her
for a minute or so except to notice that she was pretty in a kind of sullen,
awkward way, and that she looked a sight better in her gingham dress and her own
complexion than she would after she bought whatever she would finally decide on.
Or tell that she wanted. I knew that she had already decided before she came in.
But you have to let them take their time. So I went on with what I was doing,
figuring to let Albert wait on her when he caught up at the fountain, when he
came back to me.
"That woman," he said. "You better see what she wants."
"What does she want?" I said.
"I dont know. I cant get anything out of her. You better wait on her."
So I went around the counter. I saw that she was barefooted, standing with
her feet flat and easy on the floor, like she was used to it. She was looking at
me, hard, holding the package; I saw she had about as black a pair of eyes as
ever I saw, and she was a stranger. I never remembered seeing her in Mottson
before. "What can I do for you?" I said.
Still she didn't say anything. She stared at me without winking. Then she
looked back at the folks at the fountain. Then she looked past me, toward the
back of the store.
"Do you want to look at some toilet things?" I said. "Or is it medicine
"That's it," she said. She looked quick back at the fountain again. So I
thought maybe her ma or somebody had sent her in for some of this female dope
and she was ashamed to ask for it. I knew she couldn't have a complexion like
hers and use it herself, let alone not being much more than old enough to barely
know what it was for. It's a shame, the way they poison themselves with it. But
a man's got to stock it or go out of business in this country.
"Oh," I said. "What do you use? We have--" She looked at me again, almost
like she had said hush, and looked toward the back of the store again.
"I'd liefer go back there," she said.
"All right," I said. You have to humor them. You save time by it. I
followed her to the back. She put her hand on the gate. "There's nothing back
there but the prescription case," I said. "What do you want?" She stopped and
looked at me. It was like she had taken some kind of a lid off her face, her
eyes. It was her eyes: kind of dumb and hopeful and sullenly willing to be
disappointed all at the same time. But she was in trouble of some sort; I could
see that. "What's your trouble?" I said. "Tell me what it is you want. I'm
pretty busy." I wasn't meaning to hurry her, but a man just hasn't got the time
they have out there.
"It's the female trouble," she said.
"Oh," I said. "Is that all?" I thought maybe she was younger than she
looked, and her first one had scared her, or maybe one had been a little
abnormal as it will in young women. "Where's your ma?" I said. "Haven't you got
"She's out yonder in the wagon," she said.
"Why not talk to her about it before you take any medicine," I said. "Any
woman would have told you about it." She looked at me, and I looked at her again
and said, "How old are you?"
"Seventeen," she said.
"Oh," I said. "I thought maybe you were . . . She was watching me. But
then, in the eyes all of them look like they had no age and knew everything in
the world, anyhow. "Are you too regular, or not regular enough?"
She quit looking at me but she didn't move. "Yes," she said. "I reckon so.
"Well, which?" I said. "Dont you know?" It's a crime and a shame; but
after all, they'll buy it from somebody. She stood there, not looking at me.
"You. want something to stop it?" I said. "Is that it?"
"No," she said. "That's it. It's already stopped."
"Well, what--" Her face was lowered a little, still, like they do in all
their dealings with a man so he-dont ever know just where the lightning will
strike-next. "You are not married, are you?" I said.
"Oh," I said. "And how long has it been since it stopped? about five
"It aint been but two," she said.
"Well, I haven't got anything in my store you want to buy," I said,
"unless it's a nipple. And I'd advise you to buy that and go back home and tell
your pa, if you have one, and let him make somebody buy you a wedding license.
Was that all you wanted?"
But she just stood there, not looking at me.
"I got the money to pay you," she said.
"Is it your own, or did he act enough of a man to give you the money?"
"He give it to me. Ten dollars. He said that would be enough."
"A thousand dollars wouldn't be enough in my store and ten cents wouldn't
be enough," I said. "You take my advice and go home and tell your pa or your
brothers if you have any or the first man you come to in the road."
But she, didn't move. "Lafe said I could get it at the drugstore. He said
to tell you me and him wouldn't never tell nobody you sold it to us."
"And I just wish your precious Lafe had come for it himself; that's what I
wish. I dont know: I'd have had a little respect for him then. And you can go
back and tell him I said so— if he aint halfway to Texas by now, which I dont
doubt. Me, a respectable druggist, that's kept store and raised a family and
been a church-member for fifty-six years in this town. I'm a good mind to tell
your folks myself, if I can just find who they are."
She looked at me now, her eyes and face kind of blank again like when I
first saw her through the window. "I didn't know," she said. "He told me I could
get something at the drugstore. He said they might not want to sell it to me,
but if I had ten dollars and told them I wouldn't never tell nobody . . ."
"He never said this drugstore," I said. "If he did or mentioned my name, I
defy him to prove it. I defy him to repeat it or I'll prosecute him to the full
extent of the law, and you can tell him so."
"But maybe another drugstore would," she said.
"Then I dont want to know it. Me, that's--" Then I looked at her. But it's
a hard life they have; sometimes a man ... if there can ever be any excuse for
sin, which it cant be. And then, life wasn't made to be easy on folks: they
wouldn't ever have any reason to be good and die. "Look here," I said. "You get
that notion out of your head. The Lord gave you what you have, even if He did
use the devil to do it; you let Him take it away from you if it's His will to do
so. You go on back to Lafe and you and him take that ten dollars and get married
"Lafe said I could get something at the drugstore," she said.
"Then go and get it," I said. "You wont get it here."
She went out, carrying the package, her feet making a little hissing on
the floor. She bumbled again at the door and went out. I could see her through
the glass going on down the street.
It was Albert told me about the rest of it He said the wagon was stopped
in front of Grummet's hardware store, with the ladies all scattering up and down
the street with handkerchiefs to their noses, and a crowd of hard-nosed men and
boys standing around the wagon, listening to the marshal arguing with the man.
He was a kind of tall, gaunted man sitting on the wagon, saying it. was a public
street and he reckoned he had as much right there as anybody, and the marshal
telling him he would have to move on; folks couldn't stand it. It had been dead
eight days, Albert said. They came from some place out in Yoknapatawpha county,
trying to get to Jefferson with it. It must have been like a piece of rotten
cheese coming into an ant-hill, in that ramshackle wagon that Albert said folks
were scared would fall all to pieces before they could get it out of town, with
that home-made box and another fellow with a broken leg lying on a quilt on top
of it, and the father and a little boy sitting on the seat and the marshal
trying to make them get out of town.
"It's a public street," the man says. 'I reckon we can stop to buy
something same as airy other man. We got the money to pay for hit, and hit aint
airy law that says a man cant spend his money where he wants."
They had stopped to buy some cement. The other son was in Grummet's,
trying to make Grummet break a sack and let him have ten cents' worth, and
finally Grummet broke the sack to get him out. They wanted the cement to fix the
fellow's broken leg, someway.
"Why, you'll kill him," the marshal said. "You'll cause him to lose his
leg. You take him on to a doctor, and you get this thing buried soon as you can.
Dont you know you're liable to jail for endangering the public health?"
"We're doing the best we can," the father said. Then he told a long tale
about how they had to wait for the wagon to come back and how the bridge was
washed away and how they went eight miles to another bridge and it was gone too
so they came back and swum the ford and the mules got drowned and how they got
another team and found that the road was washed out and they had to come clean
around by Mottson, and then the one with the cement came back and told him to
"We'll be gone in a minute," he told the marshal.
"We never aimed to bother nobody," the father said.
"You take that fellow to a doctor," the marshal told the one with the
"I reckon he's all right," he said.
"It aint that we're hard-hearted," the marshal said. "But I reckon you can
tell yourself how it is."
"Sho," the other said. "We'll take out soon as Dewey Dell comes back. She
went to deliver a package."
So they stood there with the folks backed off with handkerchiefs to their
faces, until in a minute the girl came up with that newspaper package.
"Come on," the one with the cement said, "we've lost too much time." So
they got in the wagon and went on. And when I went to supper it still seemed
like I could smell it. And the next day I met the marshal and I began to sniff
"I reckon they're in Jefferson by now," he said.
"Or in jail. Well, thank the Lord it's not our jail."
"That's a fact," he said.
"Here's a place," pa says. He pulls the team up and sits looking at the house,
"We could get some water over yonder."
"All right," I say. 'You'll have to borrow a bucket from them, Dewey
"God knows," pa says. "I wouldn't be beholden, God knows."
"If you see a good-sized can, you might bring it," I say. Dewey Dell gets
down from the wagon, carrying the package. "You had more trouble than you
expected, selling those cakes in Mottson," I say. How do our lives ravel out
into the no-wind, no-sound, the weary gestures wearily recapitulant: echoes of
old compulsions with no-hand on no-strings: in sunset we fall into furious
attitudes, dead gestures of dolls. Cash broke his leg and now the sawdust is
running out. He is bleeding to death is Cash.
"I wouldn't be beholden," pa says. "God knows."
"Then make some water yourself," I say. "We can use Cash's hat."
When Dewey Dell comes back the man comes with her. Then he stops and she
comes on and he stands there and after a while he goes back to the house and
stands on the porch, watching us.
"We better not try to lift him down," pa says. "We can fix it here."
"Do you want to be lifted down, Cash?" I say.
"Wont we get to Jefferson tomorrow?" he says. He is watching us, his eyes
interrogatory, intent, and sad. "I can last it out."
"It'll be easier on you," pa says. "It'll keep it from rubbing together."
"I can last it," Cash says. "We'll lose time stopping."
"We done bought the cement, now," pa says.
"I could last it," Cash says. "It aint but one more day. It dont bother to
speak of." He looks at us, his eyes wide in his thin gray face, questioning. "It
sets up so," he says.
"We done bought it now," pa says.
I mix the cement in the can, stirring the slow water into the pale green
thick coils. I bring the can to the wagon where Cash can see. He lies on his
back, his thin profile in silhouette, ascetic and profound against the sky.
"Does that look about right?" I say.
"You dont want too much water, or it wont work right," he says.
"Is this too much?"
"Maybe if you could get a little sand," he says. "It aint but one more
day," he says. "It dont bother me none."
Vardaman goes back down the road to where we crossed the branch and
returns with sand. He pours it slowly into the thick coiling in the can. I go to
the wagon again.
"Does that look all right?"
"Yes," Cash says. "I could have lasted. It dont bother me none."
We loosen the splints and pour the cement over his leg, slow.
"Watch out for it," Cash says. "Dont get none on it if you can help."
"Yes," I say. Dewey Dell tears a piece of paper from the package and wipes
the cement from the top of it as it drips from Cash's leg.
"How does that feel?"
"It feels fine," he says. "It's cold. It feels fine."
"If it'll just help you," pa says. "I asks your forgiveness. I never
foreseen it no more than you."
"It feels fine," Cash says.
If you could just ravel out into time. That would be nice. It would be
nice if you could just ravel out into time.
We replace the splints, the cords, drawing them tight, the cement in thick
pale green slow surges among the cords, Cash watching us quietly with that
profound questioning look.
"That'll steady it," I say.
"Ay," Cash says. "I'm obliged."
Then we all turn on the wagon and watch him. He is coming up the road
behind us, wooden-backed, wooden-faced, moving only from his hips down. He
comes tip without a word, with his pale rigid eyes in his high sullen face, and
gets into the wagon.
"Here's a hill," pa says. "I reckon you'll have to get out and walk."
Darl and Jewel and Dewey Dell and I are walking tip the hill, behind the wagon.
Jewel came back. He came up the road and got into the wagon. He was walking.
Jewel hasn't got a horse anymore. Jewel is my brother. 'Cash is my brother. Cash
has a broken leg. We fixed Cash's leg so it doesn't hurt. Cash is my brother.
Jewel is my brother too, but he hasn't got a broken leg.
Now there are five of them, tall in little tall black circles.
"Where do they stay at night, Darl?" I say. "When we stop at night in the
barn, where do they stay?"
The hill goes off into the sky. Then the sun comes up from behind the hill
and the mules and the wagon and pa walk on the sun. You cannot watch them,
walking slow on the sun. In Jefferson it is red on the track behind the glass.
The track goes shining round and round. Dewey Dell says so.
Tonight I am going to see where they stay while we are in the barn.
Jewel," I say, "whose son are you?"
The breeze was setting up from the barn, so we put her under the apple
tree, where the moonlight can dapple the apple tree upon the long slumbering
flanks within which now and then she talks in little trickling bursts of secret
and murmurous bubbling. I took Vardaman to listen. When we came up the cat
leaped down from it and flicked away with silver claw and silver eye into the
"Your mother was a horse, but who was your father, Jewel?"
"You goddamn lying son of a bitch."
"Dont call me that," I say.
"You goddamn lying son of a bitch."
"Dont you call me that, Jewel." In the tall moonlight his eyes look like
spots of white paper pasted on a high small football.
After supper Cash began to sweat a little. "It's getting a little hot," he
said. "It was the sun shining on it all day, I reckon."
"You want some water poured on it?" we say. "Maybe that will ease it
"I'd be obliged," Cash said. "It was the sun shining on it, I reckon. I
ought to thought and kept it covered."
"We ought to thought," we said. "You couldn't have suspicioned."
"I never noticed it getting hot," Cash said. "I ought to minded it."
So we poured the water over it. His leg and foot below the cement looked
like they had been boiled. "Does that feel better?" we said.
"I'm obliged," Cash said. "It feels fine."
Dewey Dell wipes his face with the hem of her dress.
"See if you can get some sleep," we say.
"Sho," Cash says. "I'm right obliged. It feels fine now."
Jewel, I say, Who was your father, Jewel?
Goddamn you. Goddamn you.
She was under the apple tree and Darl and I go across the moon and the cat jumps
down and runs and we can hear her inside the wood.
"Hear?" Darl says. "Put your ear close."
I put my ear close and I can hear her. Only I cant tell what she is
"What is she saying, Darl?" I say. "Who is she talking to?"
"She's talking to God," Darl says. "She is calling on Him to help her."
"What does she want Him to do?" I say.
"She wants Him to hide her away from the sight of man," Darl says.
"Why does she want to hide her away from the sight of man, Darl?"
"So she can lay down her life," Darl says.
"Why does she want to lay down her life, Darl?"
"Listen," Darl says. We hear her. We hear her turn over on her side.
"Listen," Darl says.
"She's turned over," I say. "She's looking at me through the Wood."
"Yes," Darl says.
"How can she see through the wood, Darl?"
"Come," Darl says. "We must let her be quiet. Come."
"She cant see out there, because the holes are in the top," I say. "How
can she see, Darl?"
"Let's go see about Cash," Darl says.
And I saw something Dewey Dell told me not to tell nobody
Cash is sick in his leg. We fixed his leg this afternoon, but he is sick
in it again, lying on the bed. We pour water on his leg and then he feels fine.
"I feel fine," Cash says. I'm obliged to you."
"Try to get some sleep," we say.
"I feel fine," Cash says. "I'm obliged to you."
And I saw something Dewey Dell told me not to tell nobody. It is not
about pa and it is not about Cash and it is not about Jewel and it is not about
Dewey Dell and it is not about me
Dewey Dell and I are going to sleep on the pallet It is on the back porch,
where we can see the barn, and the moon shines on half of the pallet and we will
lie half in the white and half in the black, with the moonlight on our legs. And
then I am going to see where they stay at night while we are in the barn. We are
not in the barn tonight but I can see the barn and so I am going to find where
they stay at night.
We lie on the pallet, with our legs in the moon.
"Look," I say, "my legs look black. Your legs look black, too."
"Go to sleep," Dewey Dell says.
Jefferson is a far piece.
"If it's not Christmas now, how will it be there?"
It goes round and round on the shining track. Then the track goes shining
round and round.
"Will what be there?"
"That train. In the window."
"You go to sleep. You can see tomorrow if it's there."
Maybe Santa Claus wont know they are town boys.
"You go to sleep. He aint going to let none of them town boys have it."
It was behind the window, red on the track, the track shining round and
round. It made my heart hurt And then it was pa and Jewel and Darl and Mr
Gillespie's boy. Mr Gillespie's boy's legs come down under his nightshirt When
he goes into the moon, his legs fuzz. They go on around the house toward the
"What are they going to do, Dewey Dell?"
They went around the house toward the apple tree.
"I can smell her," I say. "Can you smell her, too?"
"Hush," Dewey Dell says. "The wind's changed. Go to sleep."
And so I am going to know where they stay at night soon. They come around
the house, going across the yard in the moon, carrying her on their shoulders.
they carry her down to the barn, the moon shining flat and quiet on her. Then
they come back and go into the house again. While they were in the moon, Mr
Gillespie's boy's legs fuzzed. And then I waited and I said Dewey Dell? and then
I waited and then I went to find where they stay at night and I saw something
that Dewey Dell told me not to tell nobody.
Against the dark doorway he seems to materialise out of darkness, lean as a race
horse in his underclothes in the beginning of the glare. He leaps to the ground
with on his face an expression of furious unbelief. He has seen me without even
turning his head or his eyes in which the glare swims like two small torches.
"Come on," he says, leaping down the slope toward the barn.
For an instant longer he runs silver in the moonlight, then he springs out
like a flat figure cut leanly from tin against an abrupt and soundless explosion
as the whole loft of the barn takes fire at once, as though it had been stuffed
with powder. The front, the conical facade with the square orifice of doorway
broken only by the square squat shape of the coffin on the sawhorses like a
cubistic bug, conies into relief. Behind me pa and Gillespie and Mack and Dewey
Dell and Vardaman emerge from the house.
He pauses at the coffin, stooping, looking at me, his face furious.
Overhead the flames sound like thunder; across us rushes a cool draft: there is
no heat in it at all yet, and a handful of chaff lifts suddenly and sucks
swiftly along the stalls where a horse is screaming. "Quick," I say; "the
He glares a moment longer at me, then at the roof overhead, then he leaps
toward the stall where the horse screams. It plunges and kicks, the sound of the
crashing blows sucking up into the sound of the flames. They sound like an
interminable train crossing an endless trestle. Gillespie and Mack pass me, in
knee-length nightshirts, shouting, their voices thin and high and meaningless
and at the same time profoundly wild and sad: ". . . cow . . . stall . . ."
Gillespie's nightshirt rushes ahead of him on the draft, ballooning about his
The stall door has swung shut. Jewel thrusts it back with his buttocks and
he appears, his back arched, the muscles ridged through his garment as he drags
the horse out by its head. In the glare its eyes roll with soft, fleet, wild
opaline fire; its muscles bunch and run as it flings its head about, lifting
Jewel clear of the ground. He drags it on, slowly, terrifically; again he gives
me across his shoulder a single glare furious and brief. Even when they are
clear of the barn the horse continues to fight and lash backward toward the
doorway until Gillespie passes me, stark-naked, his nightshirt wrapped about the
mule's head, and beats the maddened horse on out of the door.
Jewel returns, running; again he looks down at file coffin. But he comes
on. "Where's cow?" he cries, passing me. I follow him. In the stall Mack is
struggling with the other mule. When its head turns into the glare I can see the
wild rolling of its eye too, but it makes no sound. It just stands there,
watching Mack over its shoulder, swinging its hind quarters toward him whenever
he approaches. He looks back at us, his eyes and mouth three round holes in his
face on which the freckles look like english peas on a plate. His voice is thin,
"I cant do nothing ..." It is as though the sound had been swept from his
lips and up and away, speaking back to us from an immense distance of
exhaustion. Jewel slides past us; the mule whirls and lashes out, but he has
already gained its head. I lean to Mack's ear:
"Nightshirt. Around his head."
Mack stares at me. Then he rips the nightshirt off and flings it over the
mule's head, and it becomes docile at once. Jewel is yelling at him: "Cow? Cow?"
"Back," Mack cries. "Last stall."
The cow watches us as we enter. She is backed into the corner, head
lowered, still chewing though rapidly. But she makes no move. Jewel has paused,
looking up, and suddenly we watch the entire floor to the loft dissolve. It just
turns to fire; a faint litter of sparks rains down. He glances about. Back under
the trough is a three legged milking stool. He catches it up and swings it into
the planking of the rear wall. He splinters a plank, then another, a third; we
tear the fragments away. While we are stooping at the opening something charges
into us from behind. It is the cow; with a single whistling breath she rushes
between us and through the gap and into the outer glare, her tail erect and
rigid as a broom nailed upright to the end of her spine.
Jewel turns back into the barn. "Here," I say; "Jewel!" I grasp at him; he
strikes my hand down. "You fool," I say, "dont you see you cant make it hack
yonder?" The hallway looks like a searchlight turned into rain. "Come on," I
say, "around this way."
When we are through the gap he begins to run. "Jewel," I say, running. He
darts around the corner. When I reach it he has almost reached the next one,
running against the glare like that figure cut from tin. Pa and Gillespie and
Mack are some distance away, watching the barn, pink against the darkness where
for the time the moonlight has been vanquished. "Catch him!" I cry; "stop him!"
When I reach the front, he is struggling with Gillespie; the one lean in
underclothes, the other stark naked. They are like two figures in a Greek
frieze, isolated out of all reality by the red glare. Before I can reach them he
has struck Gillespie to the ground and turned and run back into the barn.
The sound of it has become quite peaceful now, like the sound of the river
did. We watch through the dissolving proscenium of the doorway as Jewel runs
crouching to the far end of the coffin and stoops to it. For an instant he looks
up and out at us through the rain of burning hay like a portiere of flaming
beads, and I can see his mouth shape as he calls my name.
"Jewel!" Dewey Dell cries; "Jewel!" It seems to me that I now hear the
accumulation of her voice through the last five minutes, and I hear her
scuffling and struggling as pa and Mack hold her, screaming "Jewell Jewel!" But
he is no longer looking at us. We see his shoulders strain as he upends the
coffin and slides it single-handed from the sawhorses. It looms unbelievably
tall, hiding him: I would not have believed that Addie Bundren would have needed
that much room to lie comfortable in; for another instant it stands upright
while the sparks rain on it in scattering bursts as though they engendered other
sparks from the contact. Then it topples forward, gaining momentum, revealing
Jewel and the sparks raining on him too in engendering gusts, so that he appears
to be enclosed in a thin nimbus of fire. Without stopping it overends and rears
again, pauses, then crashes slowly forward and through the curtain. This time
Jewel is riding upon it, clinging to it, until it crashes down and flings him
forward and clear and Mack leaps forward into a thin smell of scorching meat and
slaps at the widening crimson-edged holes that bloom like flowers in his
When I went to find where they stay at night, I saw something They said, "Where
is Darl? Where did Darl go?"
They carried her back under the apple tree.
The barn was still red, but it wasn't a barn now. It was sunk down, and
the red went swirling up. The barn went swirling up in little red pieces,
against the sky and the stars so that the stars moved backward.
And then Cash was still awake. He turned his head from side to side, with
sweat on his face.
"Do you want some more water on it, Cash?" Dewey Dell said.
Cash's leg and foot turned black. We held the lamp and looked at Cash's
foot and leg where it was black.
"Your foot looks like a nigger's foot, Cash," I said. "I reckon we'll have
to bust it off," pa said. "What in the tarnation you put it on there for," Mr
"I thought it would steady it some," pa said. "I just aimed to help him."
They got the flat iron and the hammer. Dewey Dell held the lamp. They had
to hit it hard. And then Cash went to sleep.
"He's asleep now," I said. "It cant hurt him while he's asleep."
It just cracked. It wouldn't come off.
"It'll take the hide, too," Mr Gillespie said. "Why in the tarnation you
put it on there. Didn't none of you think to grease his leg first?"
"I just aimed to help him," pa said. "It was Darl put it on."
"Where is Darl?" they said.
"Didn't none of you have more sense than that?" Mr Gillespie said. "I'd a
thought he would, anyway."
Jewel was lying on his face. His back was red. Dewey Dell put the medicine
on it. The medicine was made out of butter and soot, to draw out the fire. Then
his back was black.
"Does it hurt, Jewel?" I said. "Your back looks like a nigger's, Jewel," I
said. Cash's foot and leg looked like a nigger's. Then they broke it off. Cash's
"You go on back and lay down," Dewey Dell said. "You ought to be asleep."
"Where is Darl?" they said.
He is out there under the apple tree with her, lying on her. He is there
so the cat wont come back. I said, "Are you going to keep the cat away, Darl?"
The moonlight dappled on him too. On her it was still, but on Darl it
dappled up and down.
"You needn't to cry," I said. "Jewel got her out. You needn't to cry,
The barn is still red. It used to be redder than this. Then it went
swirling, making the stars run backward without falling. It hurt my heart like
the train did.
When I went to find where they stay at night, I saw something that Dewey
Dell says I mustn't tell nobody
We have been passing the signs for some time now: the drugstores, the clothing
stores, the patent medicine and the garages and cafes, and the mile-boards
diminishing, becoming more starkly raccruent: 3 mi. 2 mi. From the crest of a
hill, as we get into the wagon again, we can see the somke low and flat,
seemingly unmoving in the unwinded afternoon.
"Is that it, Darl?" Vardaman says. "Is that Jefferson?" He too has lost
flesh; like ours, his face has an expression strained, dreamy and gaunt.
"Yes," I say. He lifts his head and looks at the sky.
High against it they hand in narrowing circles, like the smoke, with an outward
semblance of from and purpose, but with no inference of motion, progress or
retrograde, We mount the wagon again where Cash lies on the box, the Jagged
shards of cement cracked about his leg. The shabby mules droop rattling and
clanking down the hill.
"We'll have to take him to the doctor," pa says. "I reckon it aint no way
around it." The back of Jewel's shirt, where it touches him, stains slow and
black with grease. Life was created in the valleys. It blew up onto the hills on
the old terrors, the old lusts, the old 'despairs. That's why you must walk up
the hills so you can ride down.
Dewey Dell sits on the seat, the newspaper package on her lap. When we
reach the foot of the hill where the road flattens between close walls of trees,
she begins to look about quietly from one side of the road to the other. At last
"I got to stop."
Pa looks at her, his shabby profile that of anticipant and disgruntled
annoyance. He does not check the team. "What for?"
"I got to go to the bushes," Dewey Dell says.
Pa does not check the team. "Cant you wait till we get to town? It aint
over a mile now."
"Stop," Dewey Dell says. "I got to go to the bushes."
Pa stops in the middle of the road and we watch Dewey Dell descend,
carrying the package. She does not look back.
"Why not leave your cakes here?" I say. "We'll watch them."
She descends steadily, not looking at us.
"How would she know where to go if she waited till we get to town?"
Vardaman says. "Where would you go to do it in town, Dewey Dell?"
She lifts the package down and turns and disappears among the trees and
"Dont be no longer than you can help," pa says. "We aint got no time to
waste." She does not answer. After a while we cannot hear her even. "We ought to
done like Armstid and Gillespie said and sent word to town and had it dug and
ready," he said.
"Why didn't you?" I say. "You could have telephoned."
"What for?" Jewel says. "Who the hell cant dig a hole in the ground?"
A car comes over the hill. It begins to sound the torn, slowing. It runs
along the roadside in low gear, the outside wheels in the ditch, and passes us
and goes on. Vardaman watches it until it is out of sight.
"How far is it now, Darl?" he says.
"Not far," I say.
"We ought to done it," pa says. "I just never wanted to be beholden to
none except her flesh and blood."
"Who the hell cant dig a damn hole in the ground?" Jewel says.
"It aint respectful, talking that way about her grave," pa says. "You all
dont know what it is. You never pure loved her, none of you." Jewel does not
answer. He sits a little stiffly erect, his body arched away from his shirt. His
high-colored jaw juts.
Dewey Dell returns. We watch her emerge from the bushes, carrying the
package, and climb into the wagon. She now wears her Sunday dress, her beads,
her shoes and stockings.
"I thought I told you to leave them clothes to home," pa says. She does
not answer, does not look at us. She sets the package in the wagon and gets in.
The wagon moves on.
"How many more hills now, Darl?" Vardaman says.
"Just one," I say. "The next one goes right up into town."
This hill is red sand, bordered on either hand by negro cabins; against
the sky ahead the massed telephone lines run, and the clock on the courthouse
lifts among the trees. In the sand the wheels whisper, as though the very earth
would hush our entry. We descend as the hill commences to rise.
We follow the wagon, the whispering wheels, passing the cabins where faces
come suddenly to the doors, white-eyed. We hear sudden voices, ejaculant. Jewel
has been looking from side to side; now his head turns forward and I can see his
ears taking on a still deeper tone of furious red. Three negroes walk beside the
road ahead of us; ten feet ahead of them a white man walks. When we pass the
negroes their heads turn suddenly with that expression of shock and instinctive
outrage. "Great God," one says; "what they got in that wagon?"
Jewel whirls. "Son of a bitches," he says. As he does so he is abreast of
the white man, who has paused. It is as though Jewel had gone blind for the
moment, for it is the white man toward whom he whirls.
"Darl!" Cash says from the wagon. I grasp at Jewel. The white man has
fallen back a pace, his face still slack-jawed; then his jaw tightens, claps to.
Jewel leans above him, his jaw muscles gone white.
"What did you say?" he says.
"Here," I say. "He dont mean anything, mister. Jewel," I say. When I touch
him he swings at the man. I grasp his arm; we struggle. Jewel has never looked
at me. He is trying to free his arm. When I see the man again he has an open
knife in his hand.
"Hold up, mister," I say; "I've got him. Jewel," I say.
"Thinks because he's a goddamn town fellow," Jewel says, panting,
wrenching at me. "Son of a bitch," he says.
The man moves. He begins to edge around me, watching Jewel, the knife low
against his flank. "Cant no man call me that," he says. Pa has got down, and
Dewey Dell is holding Jewel, pushing at him. I release him and face the man.
"Wait," I say. "He dont mean nothing. He's sick; got burned in a fire last
night, and he aint himself."
"Fire or no fire," the man says, "cant no man call me that."
"He thought you said something to him," I say.
"I never said nothing to him. I never see him before."
"Fore God," pa says; "Fore God."
"I know," I say. "He never meant anything. He'll take it back."
"Let him take it back, then."
"Put up your knife, and he will."
The man looks at me. He looks at Jewel. Jewel is quiet now.
"Put up your knife," I say. The man shuts the knife.
"Fore God," pa says. "Fore God."
"Tell him you didn't mean anything, Jewel," I say. "I thought he said
something," Jewel says. "Just because he's--"
"Hush," I say. "Tell him you didn't mean it."
"I didn't mean it," Jewel says.
"He better not," the man says. "Calling me a-"
"Do you think he's afraid to call you that?" I say.
The man looks at me. "I never said that," he said.
"Dont think it, neither," Jewel says.
"Shut up," I say. "Come on. Drive on, pa."
The wagon moves. The man stands watching us. Jewel does not look back.
"Jewel would a whipped him," Vardaman says.
We approach the crest, where the street runs, where cars go back and
forth; the mules haul the wagon up and onto the crest and the street. Pa stops
them. The street runs on ahead, where the square opens and the monument stands
before the courthouse. We mount again while the heads turn with that expression
which we know; save Jewel. He does not get on, even though the wagon has started
again. "Get in, Jewel," I say. "Come on. Let's get away from here." But he does
not get in. Instead he sets his foot on the turning hub of the rear wheel, one
hand grasping the stanchion, and with the hub turning smoothly under his sole he
lifts the other foot and squats there, staring straight ahead, motionless, lean,
wooden-backed, as though carved squatting out of the lean wood.
It wasn't nothing else to do. It was either send him to Jackson, or have
Gillespie sue us, because he knowed some way that Darl set fire to it. I dont
know how he knowed, but he did. Vardaman see him do it, but he swore he never
told nobody but Dewey Dell and that she told him not to tell nobody. But
Gillespie knowed it. But he would a suspicioned it sooner or later. He could
have done it that night just watching the way Darl acted.
And so pa said, "I reckon there aint nothing else to do," and Jewel said,
"You want to fix him now?"
"Fix him?" pa said.
"Catch him and tie him up," Jewel said. "Goddamn it; do you want to wait
until he sets fire to the goddamn team and wagon?"
But there wasn't no use in that. "There aint no use in that," I said. "We
can wait till she is underground." A fellow that's going to spend the rest of
his life locked up, he ought to be let to have what pleasure he can have before
"I reckon he ought to be there," pa says. "God knows, it's a trial on me.
Seems like it aint no end to bad luck when once it starts."
Sometimes I aint so sho who's got ere a right to say when a man is crazy
and when he aint. Sometimes I think it aint none of us pure crazy and aint none
of us pure sane until the balance of us talks him that-a-Way. It's like it aint
so much what a fellow does, but it's the way the majority of folks is looking at
him when he does it.
Because Jewel is too hard on him. Of course it was Jewel's horse was
traded to get her that nigh to town, and in a sense it was the value of his
horse Darl tried to burn up. But I thought more than once before we crossed the
river and after, how it would be God's blessing if He did take her outen our
hands and get shut of her in some clean way, and it seemed to me that when Jewel
worked so to get her outen the river, he was going against God in a way, and
then when Darl seen that it looked like one of us would have to do something, I
can almost believe he done right in a way. But I dont reckon nothing excuses
setting fire to a man's barn and endangering his stock and destroying his
property. That's how I reckon a man is crazy. That's how he cant see eye to eye
with other folks. And I reckon they aint nothing else to do with him but what
the most folks says is right.
But it's a shame, in a way. Folks seems to get away from the olden right
teaching that says to drive the nails down and trim the edges well always Like
it was for your own use and comfort you were making it. It's like some folks has
the smooth, pretty boards to build a courthouse with and others dont have no
more than rough lumber fitten to build a chicken coop. But it's better to build
a tight chicken coop than a shoddy courthouse, and when they both build shoddy
or build well, neither because it's one or toothier is going to make a man feel
the better nor the worse.
So we went up the street, toward the square, and he said, "We better take
Cash to the doctor first. We can leave him there and come back for him." That's
it. It's because me and him was born close together, and it nigh ten years
before Jewel and Dewey Dell and Vardaman begun to come along. I feel kin to
them, all right, but I dont know. And me being the oldest, and thinking already
the very thing that he done: I dont know.
Pa was looking at me, then at him, mumbling his mouth.
"Go on," I said. "We'll get it done first."
"She would want us all there," pa says.
"Let's take Cash to the doctor first," Darl said. "She'll Wait. She's
already waited nine days."
"You all dont know," pa says. "The somebody you was young with and you
growed old in her and she growed old in you, seeing the old coming on and it was
the one somebody you could hear say it dont matter and know it was the truth
outen the hard world and all a man's grief and trials. You all dont know."
"We got the digging to do, too," I said.
"Armstid and Gillespie both told you to send word ahead," Darl said. "Dont
you want to go to Peabody's now, Cash?"
"Go on," I said. "It feels right easy now. It's best to get things done in
the right place."
"If it was just dug," pa says. "We forgot our spade, too."
"Yes," Darl said. "I'll go to the hardware store. We'll have to buy one."
"It'll cost money," pa says.
"Do you begrudge her it?" Darl says.
"Go on and get a spade," Jewel said. "Here. Give me the money."
But pa didn't stop. "I reckon we can get a spade," he said. "I reckon
there are Christians here." So Darl set still and we went on, with Jewel
squatting on the tail-gate, watching the back of Darl's head. He looked like one
of these bull dogs, one of these dogs that dont bark none, squatting against the
rope, watching the thing he was waiting to jump at.
He set that way all the time we was in front of Mrs Bundren's house,
hearing the music, watching the back of Darl's head with them hard white eyes of
The music was playing in the house. It was one of them graphophones. It
was natural as a music-band.
"Do you want to go to Peabody's?" Darl said. "They can wait here and tell
pa, and l'1 1 drive you to Peabody's and come back for them."
"No," I said. It was better to get her underground, now we was this close,
just waiting until pa borrowed the shovel. He drove along the street until we
could hear the music.
"Maybe they got one here," he said. He pulled up at Mrs Bundren's. It was
like he knowed. Sometimes I think that if a working man could see work as far
ahead as a lazy man can see laziness. So he stopped there like he knowed, before
that little new house, where the music was. We waited there, hearing it. I
believe I could have dickered Suratt down to five dollars on that one of his.
It's a comfortable thing, music is. "Maybe they got one here," pa says.
"You want Jewel to go," Darl says, "or do you reckon I better?"
"I reckon I better," pa says. He got down and went up the path and around
the house to the back. The music stopped, then it started again.
"He'll get it, too," Darl said.
"Ay," I said. It was just like he knowed, like he could see through the
walls and into the next ten minutes.
Only it was more than ten minutes. The music stopped and never commenced
again for a good spell, where her and pa was talking at the back. We waited in
"You let me take you back to Peabody's," Darl said.
"No," I said. "We'll get her underground."
"If he ever gets back," Jewel said. He begun to cuss. He started to get
down from the wagon. "I'm going," he said.
Then we saw pa coming back. He had two spades, coming around the house. He
laid them in the wagon and got in and we went on. The music never started again.
Pa was looking back at the house. He kind of lifted his hand a little and I saw
the shade pulled back a little at the window and her face in it.
But the curiousest thing was Dewey Dell. It surprised me. I see all the
while how folks could say he was queer, but that was the very reason couldn't
nobody hold it personal. It was like he was outside of it too, same as you, and
getting mad at it would be kind of like getting mad at a mud-puddle that
splashed you when you stepped in it. And then I always kind of had a idea that
him and Dewey Dell kind of knowed things betwixt them. If I'd a said it was ere
a one of us she liked better than ere a other, I'd a said it was Darl. But when
we got it filled and covered and drove out the gate and turned into the lane
where them fellows was waiting, when they come out and come on him and he jerked
back, it was Dewey Dell that was on him before even Jewel could get at him. And
then I believed I knowed how Gillespie knowed about how his barn taken fire.
She hadn't said a word, hadn't even looked at him, but when them fellows
told him what they wanted and that they had come to get him and he throwed back,
she jumped on him like a wild cat so that one of the fellows had to quit and
hold her and her scratching and clawing at him Like a wild cat, while the other
one and pa and Jewel throwed Darl down and held him lying on his back, looking
up at me.
"I thought you would have told me," he said. "I never thought you wouldn't
"Darl," I said. But he fought again, him and Jewel and the fellow, and the
other one holding Dewey Dell and Vardaman yelling and Jewel saying,
"Kill him. Kill the son of a bitch."
It was bad so. It was bad. A fellow cant get away from a shoddy job. He
cant do it. I tried to tell him, but he just said, "I thought you'd a told me.
It's not that I," he said, then he begun to laugh. The other fellow pulled Jewel
off of him and he sat there on the ground, laughing.
I tried to tell him. If I could have just moved, even set up. But I tried
to tell him, and he quit laughing, looking up at me.
"Do you want me to go?" he said.
"It'll be better for you," I said. "Down there it'll be quiet, with none
of the bothering and such. It'll be better for you, Darl," I said.
"Better," he said. He begun to laugh again. "Better," he said. He couldn't
hardly say it for laughing. He sat on the ground and us watching him, laughing
and laughing. It was bad. It was bad so. I be durn if I could see anything to
laugh at. Because there just aint nothing justifies the deliberate destruction
of what a man has built with his own sweat and stored the fruit of his sweat
But I aint so sho that ere a man has the right to say what is crazy and
what aint. It's like there was a fellow in every man that's done a-past the
sanity or the insanity, that watches the sane and the insane doings of that man
with the same horror and the same astonishment.
I said, "I reckon a man in a tight might let Bill Varner patch him up like a
damn mule, but I be damned if the man that'd let Anse Bundren treat him with raw
cement aint got more spare legs than I have."
"They just aimed to ease hit some," he said.
"Aimed, hell," I said. "What in hell did Armstid mean by even letting them
put you on that wagon again?"
"Hit was gittin right noticeable," he said. "We never had time to wait." I
just looked at him. "Hit never bothered me none," he said.
"Dont you lie there and try to tell me you rode six days on a wagon
without springs, with a broken leg and it never bothered you."
"It never bothered me much," he said.
"You mean, it never bothered Anse much," I said. "No more than it bothered
him to throw that poor devil down in the public street and handcuff him like a
damn murderer. Dont tell me. And dont tell me it aint going to bother you to
lose sixty-odd square inches of skin to get that concrete off. And dont tell me
it aint going to bother you to have to limp around on one short leg for the
balance of your life--if you walk at all again. Concrete," I said. "God Amighty,
why didn't Anse carry you to the nearest sawmill and stick your leg in the saw?
That would have cured it. Then you all could have stuck his head into the saw
and cured a whole family . . . Where is Anse, anyway? What's lie up to now?"
"He's takin back them spades he borrowed," he said.
"That's right," I said. "Of course he'd have to borrow a spade to bury his
wife with. Unless he could borrow a hole in the ground. Too bad you all didn't
put him in it too . . . Does that hurt?"
"Not to speak of," he said, and the sweat big as marbles running down his
face and his face about the color of blotting paper.
"Course not," I said. "About next summer you can hobble around fine on
this leg. Then it wont bother you, not to speak of ... If you had anything you
could call luck, you might say it was lucky this is the same leg you broke
before," I said.
"Hit's what paw says," he said.
It happened I am back of the prescription case, pouring up some chocolate sauce,
when Jody comes back and says, "Say, Skeet, there's a woman up front that wants
to see the doctor and when I said What doctor you want to see, she said she
wants to see the doctor that works here and when I said There aint any doctor
works here, she just stood there, looking back this way."
"What kind of a woman is it?" I says. "Tell her to go upstairs to Alford's
"Country woman," he says.
"Send her to the courthouse," I says. "Tell her all the doctors have gone
to Memphis to a Barbers' Convention."
"All right," he says, going away. "She looks pretty good for a country
girl," he says.
"Wait," I says. He waited and I went and peeped through the crack. But I
couldn't tell nothing except she had a good leg against the light. "Is she
young, you say?" I says.
"She looks like a pretty hot mamma, for a country girl," he says.
"Take this," I says, giving him the chocolate. I took off my apron and
went up there. She looked pretty good. One of them black eyed ones that look
like she'd as soon put a knife in you as not if you two-timed her. She looked
pretty good. There wasn't nobody else in the store; it was dinner time.
"What can I do for you?" I says.
"Are you the doctor?" she says.
"Sure," I says. She quit looking at me and was kind of looking around.
"Can we go back yonder?" she says.
It was just a quarter past twelve, but I went and told Jody to kind of watch out
and whistle if the old man come in sight, because he never got back before one.
"You better lay off of that," Jody says. "He'll fire your stern out of
here so quick you cant wink."
"He dont never get back before one," I says. "You can see him go into the
postoffice. You keep your eye peeled, now, and give me a whistle."
"What you going to do?" he says.
"You keep your eye out. I'll tell you later."
"Aint you going to give me no seconds on it?" he says.
"What the hell do you think this is?" I says; "a studfarm? You watch out
for him. I'm going into conference."
So I go on to the back. I stopped at the glass and smoothed my hair, then
I went behind the prescription case, where she was waiting. She is looking at
the medicine cabinet, then she looks at me.
"Now, madam," I says; "what is your trouble?"
"It's the female trouble," she says, watching me. "I got the money," she
"Ah," I says. "Have you got female troubles or do you want female
troubles? If so, you come to the right doctor." Them country people. Half the
time they dont know what they want, and the balance of the time they cant tell
it to you. The clock said twenty past twelve.
"No," she says.
"No which?" I says.
"I aint had it," she says. "That's it." She looked at me. "I got the
money," she says.
So I knew what she was talking about.
"Oh," I says. "You got something in your belly you wish you didn't have."
She looks at me. "You wish you had a little more or a little less, huh?"
"I got the money," she says. "He said I could git something at the
drugstore for hit,"
"Who said so?" I says.
"He did," she says, looking at me.
"You dont want to call no names," I says. "The one that put the acorn in
your belly? He the one that told you?" She dont say nothing. "You aint married,
are you?" I says. I never saw no ring. But Like as not, they aint heard yet out
there that they use rings.
"I got the money," she says. She showed it to me, tied up in her
handkerchief: a ten spot.
"I'll swear you have," I says. "He give it to you?"
"Yes," she says.
"Which one?" I says. She looks at me. "Which one of them give it to you?"
"It aint but one," she says. She looks at me.
"Go on," I says. She dont say nothing. The trouble about the cellar is, it
aint but one way out and that's back up the inside stairs. The clock says
twenty-five to one. "A pretty girl like you," I says.
She looks at me. She begins to tie the money back up in the handkerchief.
"Excuse me a minute," I says. I go around the prescription case. "Did you hear
about that fellow sprained his ear?" I says. "After that he couldn't even hear a
"You better get her out from back there before the old man comes," Jody
"If you'll stay up there in front where he pays you to stay, he wont catch
nobody but me," I says.
He goes on, slow, toward the front "What you doing to her, Skeet?" he
"I cant tell you," I says. 'It wouldn't be ethical. You go on up there and
"Say, Skeet," he says.
"Ah, go on," I says. "I aint doing nothing but filling a prescription."
"He may not do nothing about that woman back there, but if he finds you
monkeying with that prescription case, he'll kick your stern clean down them
"My stern has been kicked by bigger bastards than him," I says. "Go back
and watch out for him, now."
So I come back. The clock said fifteen to one. She is tying the money in
the handkerchief. "You aint the doctor," she says.
"Sure I am," I says. She watches me. "Is it because I look too young, or
am I too handsome?" I says. "We used to have a bunch of old water-jointed
doctors here," I says; "Jefferson used to be a kind of Old Doctors' Home for
them. But business started falling off and folks stayed so well until one day
they found out that the women wouldn't never get sick at all. So they run all
the old doctors out and got us young good-looking ones that the women would like
and then the women begun to get sick again and so business picked up. They're
doing that all over the country. Hadn't you heard about it? Maybe it's because
you aint never needed a doctor."
"I need one now," she says.
"And you come to the right one," I says. "I already told you that."
"Have you got something for it?" she says. "I got the money."
"Well," I says, "of course a doctor has to learn all sorts of things while
he's learning to roll calomel; he cant help himself. But I dont know about your
"He told me I could get something. He told me I could get it at the
"Did he tell you the name of it?" I says. "You better go back and ask
She quit looking at me, kind of turning the handkerchief in her hands. "I
got to do something," she says.
"How bad do you want to do something?" I says. She looks at me. "Of
course, a doctor learns all sorts of things folks dont think he knows. But he
aint supposed to tell all he knows. It's against the law."
Up front Jody says, "Skeet."
"Excuse me a minute," I says. I went up front. "Do you see him?" I says.
"Aint you done yet?" he says. "Maybe you better come up here and watch and let
me do that consulting."
"Maybe you'll lay a egg," I says. I come back. She is looking at me. "Of
course you realise that I could be put in the penitentiary for doing what you
want," I says. "I would lose my license and then I'd have to go to work. You
"I aint got but ten dollars," she says. "I could bring the rest next
"Pooh," I says, "ten dollars? You see, I cant put no price on my knowledge
and skill. Certainly not for no little paltry sawbuck."
She looks at me. She dont even blink. "What you want, then?"
The clock said four to one. So I decided I better get her out. "You guess
three times and then I'll show you," I says.
She dont even blink her eyes. 'I got to do something," she says. She looks
behind her and around, then she looks toward the front. "Gimme the medicine
first," she says.
"You mean, you're ready to right now?" I says. "Here?"
"Gimme the medicine first," she says.
So I took a graduated glass and kind of turned my back to her and picked out a
bottle that looked all right, because a man that would keep poison setting
around in a unlabelled bottle ought to be in jail, anyway. It smelled like
turpentine. I poured some into the glass and give it to her. She smelled it,
looking at me across the glass.
"Hit smells like turpentine," she says.
"Sure," I says. "That's just the beginning of the treatment. You come back
at ten oclock tonight and I'll give you the rest of it and perform the
"Operation?" she says.
"It wont hurt you. You've had the same operation before. Ever hear about
the hair of the dog?"
She looks at me. "Will it work?" she says.
"Sure it'll work. If you come back and get it."
So she drunk whatever it was without batting a eye, and went out. I went
"Didn't you get it?" Jody says.
"Get what?" I says.
"Ah, come on," he says. "I aint going to try to beat your time."
"Oh, her," I says. "She just wanted a little medicine. She's got a bad
case of dysentery and she's a little ashamed about mentioning it with a stranger
It was my night, anyway, so I helped the old bastard check up and I got
his hat on him and got him out of the store by eight-thirty. I went as far as
the corner with him and watched him until he passed under two street lamps and
went on out of sight. Then I come back to the store and waited until nine-thirty
and turned out the front lights and locked the door and left just one light
burning at the back, and I went back and put some talcum powder into six
capsules and land of cleared up the cellar and then I was all ready.
She come in just at ten, before the clock had done striking. I let her in
and she come in, walking fast. I looked out the door, but there wasn't nobody
but a boy in overalls sitting on the curb. "You want something?" I says. He
never said nothing, just looking at me. I locked the door and turned off the
light and went on back. She was waiting. She didn't look at me now.
"Where is it?" she said.
I gave her the box of capsules. She held the box in her hand, looking at
"Are you sure it'll work?" she says.
"Sure," I says. "When you take the rest of the treatment."
"Where do I take it?" she says.
"Down in the cellar," I says.
Now it is wider and lighter, but the stores are dark because they have all gone
home. The stores are dark, but the lights pass on the windows when we pass. The
lights are in the trees around the courthouse. They roost in the trees, but the
courthouse is dark. The clock on it looks four ways, because it is not dark. The
moon is not dark too. Not very dark. Darl he went to Jackson is my brother Darl
is my brother Only it was over that way, shining on the track.
"Let's go that way, Dewey Dell," I say.
"What for?" Dewey Dell says. The track went shining around the window, it
red on the track. But she said he would not sell it to the town boys. "But it
will be there Christmas," Dewey Dell says. "You'll have to wait till then, when
he brings it back."
Darl went to Jackson. Lots of people didn't go to Jackson. Darl is my
brother. My brother is going to Jackson
While we walk the lights go around, roosting in the trees. On all sides it
is the same. They go around the courthouse and then you cannot see them. But you
can see them in the black windows beyond. They have all gone home to bed except
me and Dewey Dell.
Going on the train to Jackson. My brother
There is a light in the store, far back. In the window are two big glasses
of soda water, red and green. Two men could not drink them. Two mules could not.
Two cows could not. Darl
A man comes to the door. He looks at Dewey Dell.
"You wait out here," Dewey Dell says.
"Why cant I come in?" I say. "I want to come in, too."
"You wait out here," she says.
"All right," I say.
Dewey Dell goes in.
Darl is my brother. Darl went crazy
The walk is harder than sitting on the ground. He is in the open door. He
looks at me. "You want something?" he says. His head is slick. Jewel's head is
slick sometimes. Cash's head is not slick. Darl he went to Jackson my brother
Darl In the street he ate a banana. Wouldn't you rather have bananas? Dewey
Dell said. You wait till Christmas. It'll be there then. Then you can see it.
So we are going to have some bananas. We are going to have a bag full, me and
Dewey Dell. He locks the door. Dewey Dell is inside. Then the light winks out.
He went to Jackson. He went crazy and went to Jackson both. Lots of
people didn't go crazy. Pa and Cash and Jewel and Dewey Dell and me didn't go
crazy. We never did go crazy. We didn't go to Jackson either. Darl
I hear the cow a long time, clopping on the street. Then she comes
into the square. She goes across the square, her head down clopping . She
lows. There was nothing in the square before she lowed, but it wasn't empty. Now
it is empty after she lowed. She goes on, clopping . She lows. My brother
is Darl. He went to Jackson on the train. He didn't go on the train to go
crazy. He went crazy in our wagon. Darl She has been in there a long time. And
the cow is gone too. A long time. She has been in there longer than the cow was.
But not as long as empty. Darl is my brother. My brother Darl
Dewey Dell comes out. She looks at me.
"Let's go around that way now," I say.
She looks at me. "It aint going to work," she says. "That son of a bitch."
"What aint going to work, Dewey Dell?"
"I just know it wont," she says. She is not looking at anything. "I just
"Let's go that way," I say.
"We got to go back to the hotel. It's late. We got to slip back in."
"Cant we go by and see, anyway?"
"Hadn't you rather have bananas? Hadn't you rather?"
"All right." My brother he went crazy and he went to Jackson too. Jackson
is further away than crazy
"It wont work," Dewey Dell says. "I just know it wont."
"What wont work?" I say. He had to get on the train to go to Jackson. I
have not been on the train, but Darl has been on the train. Darl. Darl is my
brother. Darl. Darl
Darl has gone to Jackson. They put him on the train, laughing, down the long car
laughing, the heads turning like the heads of owls when he passed. "What are you
laughing at?" I said.
"Yes yes yes yes yes."
Two men put him on the train. They wore mismatched coats, bulging behind
over their right hip pockets. Their necks were shaved to a hairline, as though
the recent and simultaneous barbers had had a chalk-line like Cash's. "Is it the
pistols you're laughing at?" I said. "Why do you laugh?" I said. "Is it because
you hate the sound of laughing?"
They pulled two seats together so Darl could sit by the window to laugh.
One of them sat beside him, the other sat on the seat facing him, riding
backward. One of them had to ride backward because the state's money has a face
to each backside and a backside to each face, and they are riding on the state's
money which is incest. A nickel has a woman on one side and a buffalo on the
other; two faces and no back. I dont know what that is. Darl had a little spyglass
he got in France at the war. In it it had a woman and a pig with two backs
and no face. I know what that is. "Is that why you are laughing, Darl?"
"Yes yes yes yes yes yes."
The wagon stands on the square, hitched, the mules motionless, the reins wrapped
about the seat-spring, the back of the wagon toward the courthouse. It looks no
different from a hundred other wagons there; Jewel standing beside it and
looking up the street like any other man in town that day, yet there is
something different, distinctive. There is about it that un-mistakable air of
definite and imminent departure that trains have, perhaps due to the fact that
Dewey Dell and Vardaman on the seat and Cash on a pallet in the wagon bed are
eating bananas from a paper bag. "Is that why you are laughing, Darl?"
Darl is our brother, our brother Darl. Our brother Darl in a cage in
Jackson where, his grimed hands lying light in the quiet interstices, looking
out he foams.
"Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes."
When he saw the money I said, "It's not my money, it doesn't belong to me."
"Whose is it, then?"
"It's Cora Tull's money. It's Mrs Tull's. I sold the cakes for it."
"Ten dollars for two cakes?"
"Dont you touch it. It's not mine."
"You never had them cakes. It's a lie. It was them Sunday clothes you had
in that package."
"Dont you touch it! If you take it you are a thief."
"My own daughter accuses me of being a thief. My own daughter."
"I have fed you and sheltered you. I give you love and care, yet my own
daughter, the daughter of nay dead wife, calls me a thief over her mother's
"It's not mine, I tell you. If it was, God knows you could have it."
"Where did you get ten dollars?"
"You wont tell me. Did you come by it so shameful you dare not?"
"It's not mine, I tell you. Cant you understand it's not mine?"
"It's not like I wouldn't pay it back. But she calls her own father a
"I cant, I tell you. I tell you it's not my money. God knows you could
"I wouldn't take it. My own born daughter that has et my food for
seventeen years, begrudges me the loan of ten dollars."
"It's not mine. I cant."
"Whose is it, then?"
"It was give to me. To buy something with."
"To buy what with?"
"It's just a loan. God knows, I hate for my blooden children to reproach
me. But I give them what was mine without stint. Cheerful I give them, without
stint. And now they deny me. Addie. It was lucky for you you died, Addie."
"God knows it is."
He took the money and went out.
So when we stopped there to borrow the shovels we heard the graphophone playing
in the house, and so when we got done with the shovels pa says, "I reckon I
better take them back."
So we went back to the house. "We better take Cash on to Peabody's," Jewel
"It wont take but a minute," pa said. He got down from the wagon. The
music was not playing now.
"Let Vardaman do it," Jewel said. "He can do it in half the time you can.
Or here, you let me--"
"I reckon I better do it," pa says. "Long as it was me that borrowed
So we set in the wagon, but the music wasn't playing now. I reckon it's a
good thing we aint got ere a one of them. I reckon I wouldn't never get no work
done a-tall for listening to it. I dont know if a little music aint about the
nicest thing a fellow can have. Seems like when he comes in tired of a night, it
aint nothing could rest him like having a little music played and him resting. I
have see them that shuts up like a hand-grip, with a handle and all, so a fellow
can carry it with him wherever he wants.
"What you reckon he's doing?" Jewel says. "I could a toted them shovels
back and forth ten times by now."
"Let him take his time," I said. "He aint as spry as you, remember."
"Why didn't he let me take them back, then? We got to get your leg fixed
up so we can start home tomorrow."
"We got plenty of time," I said. "I wonder what them machines costs on the
"Installment of what?" Jewel said. "What you got to buy it with?"
"A fellow cant tell," I said. "I could a bought that one from Suratt for
five dollars, I believe."
And so pa come back and we went to Peabody's. While we was there pa said
he was going to the barbershop and get a shave. And so that night he said he had
some business to tend to, kind of looking away from us while he said it, with
his hair combed wet and slick and smelling sweet with perfume, but I said leave
him be; I wouldn't mind hearing a little more of that music myself.
And so next morning he was gone again, then he come back and told us to
get hitched up and ready to take out and he would meet us and when they was gone
"I dont reckon you got no more money."
"Peabody just give me enough to pay the hotel with," I said. "We dont need
nothing else, do we?"
"No," pa said; "no. We dont need nothing." He stood there, not looking at
"If it is something we got to have, I reckon maybe Peabody," I said.
"No," he said; "it aint nothing else. You all wait for me at the corner."
So Jewel got the team and come for me and they fixed me a pallet in the
wagon and we drove across the square to the corner where pa said, and we was
waiting there in the wagon, with Dewey Dell and Vardaman eating bananas, when we
see them coming up the street. Pa was coming along with that kind of daresome
and hangdog look all at once like when he has been up to something he knows ma
aint going to like, carrying a grip in his hand, and Jewel says,
Then we see it wasn't the grip that made him look different; it was his face,
and Jewel says, "He got them teeth."
It was a fact. It made him look a foot taller, kind of holding his head
up, hangdog and proud too, and then we see her behind him, carrying the other
grip--a kind of duck-shaped woman all dressed up, with them kind of hard-looking
pop eyes like she was daring ere a man to say nothing. And there we set watching
them, with Dewey Dell's and Vardaman's mouth half open and half-et bananas in
their hands and her coming around from behind pa, looking at us like she dared
ere a man. And then I see that the grip she was carrying was one of them little
graphophones. It was for a fact, all shut up as pretty as a picture, and everytime
a new record would come from the mail order and us setting in the house in
the winter, listening to it, I would think what a shame Darl couldn't be to
enjoy it too. But it is better so for him. This world is not his world; this
life his life.
"It's Cash and Jewel and Vardaman and Dewey Dell," pa says, kind of
hangdog and proud too, with his teeth and all, even if he wouldn't look at us.
"Meet Mrs Bundren," he says.